Student life and Cuban Rice

The simplest taste or smell can take you back in time and flood your mind with wonderful memories. One of the most uncomplicated and economical dishes I remember with fondness from my student years at the University of Salamanca in Spain is Cuban Rice (Arroz Cubano). No one really knows where the dish originated (it is almost certainly not Cuban!), but all over Latin America and Spain it is eaten in a variety of ways.

While living at the Residence Frai Luis de Leon, I was introduced to this dish during one of our many three-hour university lunch breaks. In Spain, everything closes from 2 to 5pm. This is considered lunch and siesta time. I remember walking from the arts faculty all the way across town –  a journey of about 45 minutes – and passing scores of tapas bars along the way. From these would emanate the most deliciously tempting aromas but, being on a tight student budget, I would have to keep going until I eventually reached the residence comedor or dining hall.

Often, there would be a plate of piping hot Cuban Rice waiting, and by that time my hunger would be such that nothing on this earth tasted better. This simplest of dishes was always so hearty and honest that it would keep me going for the rest of the day.  I still make it at home sometimes, as a quick-fix lunch, and it never fails to satisfy and take me back.

ArrozCubano---1

Ingredients (for 2 people)

1 cup of short-grain or risotto rice; salt; 2 firm bananas; 1 to 2 eggs per person; sunflower oil for frying; tomato sauce or relish for serving (in Spain this is called Tomate Frito, a sweetish, fried tomato puree that comes ready made. Each country has its own way of making this sauce, so if you’re not in Spain then any basic home-made tomato sauce will do).

Method

Either steam the rice or else boil it using 2 to 3 cups of water to 1 cup of rice – add salt to the water and keep the rice uncovered while it cooks. Short-grain rice does tend to stick, so stir it periodically. Once the rice is done (it takes about 20 to 25 min), keep it warm while you move on to the eggs and bananas. Heat up your tomato sauce or relish and have it ready. Cut the bananas in half lengthways and fry them until golden brown. It is better to use bananas that are slightly green so they don’t disintegrate. Fry the eggs to your liking. To serve, put the rice on a plate, top with sauce to your liking, place the fried eggs on top and the bananas on the side.

Processed with Moldiv

The ancient student city of Salamanca by night; and a detail of the New Cathedral interior.

Processed with Moldiv

The Old Cathedral of Salamanca; a street scene; and traditional confectionary.

Processed with Moldiv

Typical street cafes, top, and buildings that form part of the University of Salamanca. PHOTOGRAPHS: SALVELIO MEYER
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