A few things are synonymous when you say 'Cuba'; Castro, Embargo, Missile Crisis, Cigars and RUM! Many of you know that I have a serious interest in all things rum; sailing, pirates and of course The Mojito. There was a time when the beginning of the week was better known as 'Mojito Monday', and if you do a little internet/Instagram sleuthing you'll find my treasure trove of Mojito variations. But, here we are in Cuba where they invented the cocktail, and this being a professional research trip, I deemed it necessary to dig a little deeper. WOW! I never imagined such variation.
It seems that according to our friend Roy at Ajiaco Cafe, the Mojito was created when Cubans were actually trying to make another mint-based concoction, The Mint Julep. Not having bourbon on-hand, they used a different plentiful island spirit, RUM!
Variations abound as we were soon to discover! Our first Mojito was at a local lunch spot that our Air B&B host recommended. Classically prepared and served in the ever-present Havana Club Collins glass, and at a mere $2, I knew I was going to enjoy this trip! The next day was our cooking class, (see prior blog, A Taste of Cuba: Part 1) which included a crash course in Mojito making. At Ajiaco they use honey instead of white sugar, then dark rum, spring mint, lime and sparkling water. Key note here is that they do not muddle the leaves like we see so often here in the US. They only muddle the stems. Try it, the flavor is more pronounced and you're less likely to end up with green stuff in your teeth! Also their toast: Arriba, Abajo, Para ti, Dentro de mi—translated, "Above, Below, To You, Inside Me".
Speaking of green stuff...after a long walk along the Malecon to the Capital area of Habana, we spotted a cool looking spot above the street and decided to go have a refreshment.
When the drink menu arrived we all had this look of 'What??!!' on our faces. It seems that the Mojito at this bar had an ingredient we'd not seen in a drink before:
'Good Grass'? What the heck is that?! Well, thanks to Google Translate, spearmint/mint in Spanish is Herba Buena, and if you roughly translate that to English, you get 'Good (Buena) Grass (Herba). It created for a good laugh after I was able to explain to the bartender the English connotation of grass.
The Best Mojito
On our final day in Cuba we found ourselves in Santiago de Cuba, just west of Guantanamo Bay and the final resting place of Fidel Castro and Jose Marti. However, burial sites were checked out the day prior, today was all about the Museo de Ron— The Rum Museum. It had a very simple, graphic-friendly evolution of Rum (Ron) in Cuba and samples of Santiago de Cuba Ron were offered at the end. Melissa was in need of el bano, and if it wasn't for this need, we never would have had the best Mojito experience in all of Cuba. Down a narrow, dark, winding stairway was the rum bar of all rum bars. It was barely noon, but bartender Eduardo Corona was excited to see us and share his Mojito. Words wouldn't do this Mojito justice, check out the video. If the video below does not play, click here.
Prices ranged from $1.50 to $6.00 per Mojito. The best was the one above in the video, the worst ironically had a great view. The sunset view and Mojito at Hotel National was pretty top notch, and also the most expensive. All told, the Cuban Mojito Experience was one I, nor my traveling companions will soon forget. Just to be sure I could recreate the experience, I brought back a few bottles. Cheers!