Every trip to Havana includes at least one trip to the Hotel Inglaterra’s outdoor terrace for a cerveza, or two, enjoyed whilst savouring the parade of Cuban humanity as it wanders by. But not all guests realize that the Hotel Inglaterra also serves a culinary delight: their fried chicken.
The terrace’s menu includes many of the island’s staples such pork scallopini or a ham and cheese sandwich but the go-to plate here is the fried chicken.
When ordering it from one of the surly waiters, who have long passed any hopes of friendliness, you will be advised that the preparation time will be at least thirty-five minutes. However, in spite of these attempts to discourage the order, do proceed.
Besides, thirty-five minutes on this terrace that overlooks the Parque Central (the beating heart of Havana) passes like the blink of an eye. In addition, it will be one of the best thirty-five minutes you have spent idle in a long, long time. Guaranteed! (Tip: sit at one of the tables closest to the hotel wall rather than too close to the sidewalk or else you will be subject to a constant, though, discrete stream of beggars. Also don’t sit too close to the band. This one tends to be bigger than most and will be loud as a result).
Presto! In front of you now lies a half chicken (not split into pieces but a complete half) that has been perfectly deep- fried in a crisp, mouth-watering batter. Once you dig in, you are enjoying a moist, tender, white meat that will keep bringing you back for more whenever you find yourself in the neighbourhood (and also thinking about it long after you have returned to your desk back home).
Alternatively, in a less civilized moment, you may find yourself strolling through the Rampa, at the other side of town, late at night. Fear not, when that chicken craving hits you, there is a fast-food solution right nearby.
Welcome to POLLO.
Pollo is a sidewalk stand right on Avenida 23 just below the Habana Libre hotel that serves chicken croquettes as well as chicken legs. Fifty centavos gets you five croquettes (deep fried and ready) while two CUCs gets you a couple of chicken legs (also good to go). Plus they serve beer in cans and a variety of soft drinks including the ubiquitous Malta. What else do you really need at 2 AM? Pollo does not have any formal seating (it is also open during the day beside an open-air souvenir market) but, if you ask nicely, you can borrow the staff’s chairs to sit and enjoy your meal while watching the night-time Rampa spectacle (which is really a visual meal unto itself, if I do say so).
Now, I am not traditionally a Havana street-food person but Pollo more than passed the taste test (it was delicious) and the morning-after stable stomach test. I will be back for more!
A.J. Twist is a photographer and travel writer based in Montreal.