This Documentary Seeks to Recover Cuba’s Delicious, But Forgotten Culinary History

Lead Photo: Beach dinner in Baracoa, Cuba. Photo by: Asori Soto
Beach dinner in Baracoa, Cuba. Photo by: Asori Soto
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Over the last few decades, Cuba’s relationship with food has has become rather complex. Constant shortages of basic items due to internal mismanagement and an ongoing economic embargo have reduced a once vibrant cuisine to its lowest common denominator: rice, beans, and carne de puerco. And that’s just inside Cuban homes. Street food is also often limited to shady lunch meats flanked by old bread, or circular “pizzas” that may or may not amount to a violent assault on your tastebuds. In short, it’s not the rich and varied menu you might find at your local five-star Cuban restaurant in the U.S., and many Cubans complain of a culinary amnesia resulting from years of hardship and scarcity.

But that’s a narrative that New York-based Cuban filmmaker Asori Soto was hell bent on rewriting. A native of Havana, Soto grew up in the traumatic years of the “Special Period” when the collapse of the Soviet Union left Cuban families subsisting off of bread and banana peels, washed down with an indulgent mix of water and brown sugar. And now, as his beloved island is faced with the prospect of irrevocable transformation, Soto decided to dig deeper and find those places where the real Cuban culinary traditions are still alive.

The result is Cuban Food Stories, a feature documentary that uses this exploration of Cuba’s “lost” cuisine as a point of entry for an even deeper exploration of Cuban society. Shot in stunning 4K cinematography, Soto and his crew went on a 45-day culinary adventure that would make Anthony Bourdain blush, hiking through unwelcoming terrain to discover dishes long forgotten in the big cities, all to paint a portrait of contemporary Cuba that goes well beyond the clichés we’re so used to hearing.

Cuban food market in Old Havana, Cuba. Photo by: Asori Soto
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Focusing on 12 stories, Soto and his team take us from the the seafood mecca of Gibara in Holguin province, to the isolated Toa River in Guantanamo, a modest New Year’s celebration in a Pinar del Río farmhouse, and finally to the new and vibrant restaurant scene that is just beginning to make its mark the capital city. Unlike so many other documentaries coming out of Cuba these days, Cuban Food Stories is a project that is just as important for Cubans as for curious foreigners, and Soto has made clear that this project was made with a social mission.

And you can be an Executive Producer. That’s right, Cuban Food Stories has launched a Kickstarter campaign to cover post production costs, and if you’ve got the wallet for it, you can secure a credit as Associate Producer, Co-Producer, or Co-Executive Producer — which would allow you to butt in to the editing room and give questionable advice like a real-life Executive Producer! Of course, if you don’t have five figures on hand for a good cause you can still give as little as a dollar and the Cuban Food Stories team would be more than grateful. Check it out and pitch in for a worthy project.

This project will only be funded if at least $40,000 is pledged by 10:16 a.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, April 7, 2016.