Old Havana is a series of narrow streets that are the focus of urban tourism in the capital for tourists and Cubans alike. Much of it needs a lot of TLC but some of the buildings in certain areas, particularly around Plaza Vieja have been restored to their 18th and 19th century splendour.
Walking around in Habana Vieja is sensory overload to begin with, but turning from Obispo onto Mercaderes, my sense of smell was suddenly flashing with delight. I let my nose lead the way to an outdoor cart where a couple of fine young lads were making Churros, fragrant Cuban donut-like strips that had salivating customers lined up half way down the block.
Standing in the line, the locals were only too happy to educate me on the tradition. The churro dough is loaded into a large cylinder that works like a cake icing press and pipes out a continuous stream of light dough that is ridged all around by a star-shaped nozzle.
The two operators of the stand have a magical rhythm that keeps the churros coming for the eager crowd. The operator on the left manages the press and dexterously sends the stream of dough into the hot oil, coiling it deftly to maximize the batch. After flipping the batter coil to cook on both sides, he lifts out and drains the churro spiral. He passes the batch over to his partner, then begins another round, carefully operating the extruder to pipe another batch into the fryer.
Next, Operator Number 2 takes the batch and cuts it into segments. He takes a paper cone from his supply and packs it with hot churro segments. Finally, he dusts the hot churros with sugar and presents them to the happy customer. After he has doled out all the cones, he dusts off his work space and readies his snipper to receive the next batch. The process continues and the quick moving line-up never stops.
As each of us got closer to the moment when we’d receive our cone, our anticipation level rose. The moment when they arrive is fragrant, exciting and wonderful. Fifty centavos delivers a treat that outstrips almost any other edible experience. That first bite of churro is a moment that will stay with me as perhaps the very pinnacle among my street snack experiences!