James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Everything Tastes Better with Illicit Tabasco Sauce

Everything Tastes Better with Illicit Tabasco Sauce

Scrambled Eggs in Havana

In the course of our pre-departure due diligence, we noted that there was a market across the street from our apartment in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. Further research revealed that this was one of the better markets in the city and that the various offerings would be diverse, fresh, and plentiful.

I was the earliest to rise on our first morning. Motivated and determined, I marched out the door and climbed the stairs to the market. It was 9 a.m. and things were in full swing. Hawkers barked from all directions in clipped, musical Spanish that both beckoned and intimidated. The smell of fresh produce and cigar smoke hung heavy in the bustling space. I did one full loop of the interior of the market to get the lay of the land and a second loop to plan my attack.

I steeled myself for my third trip through the gauntlet when I saw a man exit an adjacent garage carrying a pallet of eggs. With huevos now in play, the morning’s menu shifted from fruit salad to veggie scramble.

The egg vendor was busy with other customers as I approached, so I set myself to the task of selecting 18 of his finest from the many scattered cartons. When it came time to pay for “dieciocho huevos,” I confidently thrust a 20 CUC note in his direction. My currency was roundly refused. Later, I learned that most local markets only accept Cuban pesos (CUP) instead of the tourist currency, the convertible peso (CUC). In that moment, I was stuck.

The egg man immediately moved on to the next customer. I turned to flee from my embarrassment and felt a tap on my shoulder. A youngish looking fellow led me to the side of the counter and extracted a wad of cash from his pocket. He gestured at the 20 CUC note still in my hand and began to peel bills from his bundle. As he counted off the last note, we made the exchange. Not about to leave me hanging, my new friend summoned the vendor back from the fray and helped me settle my bill of 20 CUP (about 80 cents).

Muchas gracias,” I shouted after the samaritan as he set back to whatever business had brought him to the market. Breakfast was back on! Reinvigorated and armed with a pocket full of cash, I moved among the merchants and investigated their produce. I loaded up on bell peppers, garlic, and tiny onions. I also bought sliced pineapple and green-skinned oranges.

Back at the apartment, I found some cooking oil and fired up the gas burner. I whipped six eggs into a froth and poured them over a bed of lightly sautéed veggies. A few minutes later, I divvied up the scramble and fruits between three plates and served breakfast al fresco on the patio. The bottle of Tabasco that had eluded so many TSA agents was the final ingredient.

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