Kebab Cubano: Remembering the Armenians of Cuba

Kebab Cubano
Cuban food in Florida is like Italian food in New Jersey, so nearly ubiquitous that it’s almost the native cuisine.

As long-time Floridians, we’re hooked. We can’t imagine who wouldn’t be. If you don’t know Cuban food, you should know this: It isn’t highly spiced and it isn’t fast food. The intense flavors are sophisticated blends of seasonings and ingredients, and many dishes demand time to marinate, prepare and cook oh-so-slowly. We’re usually happy to leave all that work to the people who do it best — but, we do love to cook, so we can’t resist trying our hand once in a while.

Mojo (sounds like mo-ho) is a citrus blend. You can buy it in any store (at least, we can), but the commercial blends are too salty for our taste. We prefer a simple mix of orange, lime and garlic
— with a touch of Allepo pepper flakes.

The prep was a snap. The time was no problem either: We let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours and went on with our lives.

Basically, we just roasted our Kebab Cubano like any other kebab and served it with rice and a home-made version of our favorite Latin salad that’s as old as its name, the “1905 Salad” from Tampa’s famous Columbia Restaurant.

We don’t like to brag, but…well, it tasted great. The mojo tenderized the meat and lent a slightly but not overpoweringly sweet, fresh citrus taste .

If Armeno-Cuban fusion sounds odd, consider this: Not long ago, Cuba was home to a substantial Armenian community. The island nation continued to welcome Armenian refugees in the 1920s after America began enforcing restrictive immigration quotas.

Many families waited a generation or more to come to the U.S. Some stayed and made Cuba home, at least until Castro came to power. How many remain is an open question.

We’re sure the Armenians of Cuba learned to adapt their recipes to local ingredients and customs. Kebab Cubano would almost certainly have been high on the menu.

Kebab Cubano (serves four to five)

two pounds lean pork loin
one cup orange juice
juice of one fresh lime
two cloves garlic (chopped)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt to taste

Cut the pork in kebab-size cubs and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the orange juice, lime juice, pepper flakes and garlic.
Add the pork to the marinade, stir and cover. Refrigerate for 24 hours, mixing two or three times.
Skewer the meat, adding salt just before roasting. Cook well.

Serve with any sides you like — but salad and pilaf are always appropriate!

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  1. koharig May 15, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    my great aunt was one of those who came to america via cuba. she was only able to leave when she married an armenian american citizen. what was suppose to merely be a marriage of convenience resulted in a true marriage and two sons.

  2. Anonymous March 13, 2020 at 10:06 am

    My grandmother is an immigrant from Cuba who is Armenian!

  3. Marty Alajanian June 7, 2022 at 11:32 am

    My grandfather arrived to the U.S. “late” and ran into those immigration caps on Armenians, so was diverted to the Armenian community in Cuba. He absolutely loved it there, but had 2 older brothers in RI, so eventually sailed north – I believe he spent almost 5 years Havana, and called it “paradise”. It’s VERY difficult to find any information about the Hye community, church, etc. in Cuba during those post-Genocide times. Does anyone have any such information, photos, or books/articles on this? Thank you!


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