A "paladar" served the Obamas' first dinner in Cuba
Having stated that one of the main purposes of his official visit to the Caribbean island was to make contact with the Cuban people, president Barack Obama and his family had their first dinner in Cuba in a "paladar" (private restaurant), where they tasted dishes from the local traditional cuisine. This symbolic gesture was in total correspondence with Obama's intention to meet Cuban entrepreneurs, in order to facilitate more commercial relations between the U.S. and the island.
In the evening of his first day in Cuba, president Barack Obama dropped in at the San Cristobal Paladar, a privately owned restaurant in the populous and impoverished municipality of Centro Habana where many entrepreneurs have opened small businesses for tourists in the recent years.
The caravan that followed the famous presidential car called "the beast" crossed the narrow streets of the neighborhood and stopped in front of the green doors of a 20th-century building in San Rafael avenue, where the restaurant is located.
The Obamas descended under the pouring rain and waved hands to the Cubans that were standing nearby, who rapidly shared short videos on social networks.
The participation of the press in this peculiar dinner was strictly limited, but after the visit, the San Cristobal staff revealed to the media that the family tasted dishes from the Cuban traditional cuisine. Owner Raiza Perez told to Prensa Latina that the family also seemed to be very interested in the decoration of the place.
The Obamas ordered salmon as a starter and then the president sampled a "solomillo" (sirloin steak) as the main course. His wife Michelle ordered a dish called "Tentacion habanera" (Havana Temptation) and said that it was very similar to a dish that her grandfather used to cook for her family.
Obama took special notice of a portrait of singer Nat King Cole that hangs on one of the walls at the restaurant, among other photographs and paintings. The house is decorated in a very baroque style, with antique objects and books piled on wardrobes, tables, and chairs.
This kind of decoration is very common in private restaurants in Cuba, which are mostly based in their owners current or former homes. Tourists like to grasp the spirit of Cuban households by frequenting these kind of places.
The San Cristobal restaurant is considered one of the best 10 paladares in Havana according to Trip Advisor and The Guardian. The British newspaper points out that the Cuban-Creole food there surpasses:
"...the bland standard cuisine found in many state restaurants."
The visit of the presidential family is highly praised by the paladar's owner, who has previously received other famous guests like Michelle Bachelet, Mick Jagger, and Beyonce. Referring to Obama's visit, Perez said:
"For us, it was spectacular and also an honor. I think they have had a good time, and he (the U.S. president) was very gentle with us."
With this first dinner, Obama started to get into the spirit of Cuba's economic reforms, which since 2010 have opened more opportunities for the private sector to develop. Home restaurants are one of the most creative and successful areas within this emerging sector of the economy.
On the second day of the historic visit, part of the presidential delegation and the commander in chief of the White House itself participated in a Business Forum where he delivered a speech addressed to Cuban entrepreneurs.
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