Everyone has a “bucket list.” I carry mine with me wherever I go, perhaps fearful of missing an unexpected opportunity. So it was with my impromptu visit to Cuba, the once forbidden isle.
I was weighing a typical Wednesday decision, trying to rationalize a search and seizure shopping trip to my favorite big box store. As I dismounted the sofa and stack of writing assignments awaiting my consideration, a familiar ping from my cellphone echoed more loudly than usual. This ping-ponged with a slight salsa beat.
“Can you believe the price on this trip to Cuba? It’s a last-minute cruise. They’re practically giving these rooms away. You have to go.”
I am always fond of how my friends find adventures for me to enjoy. “But what about you?” I inquired. Why don’t you go?”
The answer of most is always the same. “It’s on my bucket list.” “ I will someday.” “ The timing’s not right.” “But, is it safe?” “ I don’t even know if I have a passport.”
The snippets of “somedays” ran through my cluttered mind. Suddenly, I was faced with a decision. Should I go to Target or Cuba?
It was that same dilemma Robert Frost faced when coming upon the road less traveled. I opted for Cuba.
Cuba turned out to be everything I didn’t think it would be. Traveling solo, I felt completely safe. The people were kind and welcoming; the architecture was stunning. The demise of stately buildings taken over by the Communist government and left in ruins was disheartening. Rum and cigars were plentiful. And, of course, for most things, there was one price for locals and double the price for tourists.
Wide open doors to whatever leaked music into the streets of the old neighborhoods I visited with my driver and tour guide in his 1958 Oldsmobile convertible.
And then there was the food. My first authentic Cuban meal was in a huge rambling old home. The house was warm-- as in without air conditioning--but my interest in staving off starvation distracted me from thinking I might pass out.
I ordered picadillo served with rice (not Minute Rice) and plantains (which I later learned were called maduros -sweet plantains fried only once-not twice).
The picadillo was both sweet and savory. Combined with the plantains, bottled water (DON’T drink tap water in Cuba) and flavored rice, I became more confident than ever that choosing Cuba over Target was the right decision.
The Hotel Nacional, Hemingway’s hangouts and stories of life in Cuba told in a way they’ll be with me forever are my souvenirs. I wanted more.
The good thing is now that I’m home, I can visit Rachel Kennedy-Cuevas’ Cuban-Inspired Plantain District in the North Kansas City Iron District whenever I want to be reminded of my spontaneous adventure.
Rachel’s husband, who was born and raised in Cuba, immigrated to the U.S. with his brother and parents when he was 18.
“I immediately fell in love with Cuban food,” says Rachel, "because it is so unpretentious! It’s just wholesome, simple ingredients that pack a ton of flavor and textures.”
But, does it taste the same?
Rachel is prepared to put her picadillo up against the best of Cuba. She creates a mojo (a marinade or topping for meats, rice and beans,) from a triad of garlic, citrus, and olive oil. Accompanied by citrus cilantro rice and maduros, it will be the next best thing to revisiting “la Tierra mas Hermosa.”
Plantain District also offers another incredible dish I was able to try while in Cuba, chicken fricassee. Okay, so maybe the food was one of my favorite parts of the adventure!
Rachel recently sold the original Plantain District food truck she’s owned and operated since 2014 but will reopen as a shipping container this fall in North Kansas City as a part of the Iron District, which will be a shipping container lot featuring food, retail, and even a bar!
According to Feast Magazine, the new area at 16th and Iron in NKC will feature five food vendors in addition to the Plantain District, a full-service bar, a stage where local bands will play on Friday and Saturday nights, and eight to 16 spaces for local retail artisans to sell their products. Additionally, there will be outdoor seating and lighting to allow people to stay and eat and shop into the evening hours with bathrooms on-site.
Maybe for those wanting to visit Cuba but aren’t quite ready to jump on a plane, Rachel’s Plantain District will be the beginning of their adventure.
Would I go back to Cuba? Definitely. Besides, Cuba is on the way to Aruba and the Dominican Republic and Ecuador and the Galapagos.
Wait a minute. Let me check my bucket list...