Havana | Paladar(es)

The first ones opened their doors at the beginning of the 1990s.

The divorce from the former USSR implied a major financial impact for Cuba, taking the country to a significant economic crisis. Hence, the first private initiatives such as the paladares were allowed - although with restrictions - in order to respond to increasing international tourism and in particular to supplement the rather poor menus and services of the state restaurants. 

A little hesitantly the owners of the first paladares set their tables and handed out their menus. Some were privileged for having inherited beautiful historic houses filled with antique furniture, glassware, and china. Or they were given free and favorable marketing such as the emblematic paladar La Guarida (once setting for the ground-breaking film Fresas & Chocolate) and today still one of the leading ones, even 20 years later. 

As if it were yesterday, I do remember my visit in 1995 to an improvising paladar.

Picture yourself the following...a living room divided into two parts. We - the guests - were seated in the dining area, next to us a child and his grandfather were sitting on the couch, quietly watching TV. 
The father and mother were busy in the kitchen. Plates didn't match, neither did the cutlery and the napkins were folded double sheets of toilet paper. 
Incidentally, there were considerable restrictions in that period and the paladares were not allowed to have more than 3 tables with 4 chairs placed at each.  

You have to admire the courage and creativity of these people. They served the guests' meals on their own plates with their own cutlery, because it simply wasn't available in the stores, let alone purchasing paper (or linen) napkins. (Ironically today we often have to buy paper napkins when toilet paper is temporarily unavailable). 

The paladar-pioneers had only the impersonal and rather austere state-restaurants as a reference. They weren't able to find any inspiration in a fancy restaurant abroad, neither had the money to dine in a more experienced colleague paladar.

Today, Havana has hundreds of paladares.

The know-how and investments from abroad combined with the willpower and creativity of the Cuban enterpriser became extremely successful, especially among the international visitor. 
Their contemporary allure, fancy furnishings, and varied menus match international standards. 
The 12 seats of earlier days have been expanded to many more and also other severe restrictions were loosened.
Obviously, Cuban cuisine is still popular on many menus, but they are complemented with Italian, Chinese, and Japanese, Mediterranean, Russian food, fusion, and even vegetarian and vegan meals.



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