Canchánchara in Trinidad
Two days into our trip to Cuba, my mom and I headed south from Havana for a short stay in Trinidad, a colonial, cobble-stoned town in central Cuba. On our second day, we set out after a siesta for a sunset walk through the cobblestone streets. But as we got to the plaza, only five minutes from our casa particular, dark clouds gathered and we were caught in a downpour. We waited for it to subside under the arcade of the Museo Romantico, along with a few tourist couples, a trio of local teenagers, and a lone dog.
As it subsided to a drizzle, we dashed around the corner to a restaurant: Taverna La Botija. The taverna’s heavy blue doors stood open to the street, and we ducked in to find a few damp locals and tourists sitting at thick wooden tables, escaping the weather within cool stone walls. It was a small yet open space with high ceilings and a friendly atmosphere. Strands of onions and garlic hung from the kitchen’s ceiling. The walls were decorated with old clocks and iron lanterns, ancient rum barrels and wine bottles, swords, rifles, and slave shackles.
Trinidad is famous for its canchánchara cocktail. It contains only light rum, lime, and honey, and is thought to be Cuba’s oldest cocktail. They say it was invented in eastern Cuba during Cuba’s Ten Year War (1868-78) by pro-independence guerillas trying to fend off hunger when food supplies were low. In the 1980s, some historians from Trinidad’s museum of architecture opened the La Canchánchara bar in one of the town’s landmark colonial buildings, and the drink became associated with Trinidad.
Seeing the canchánchara on our taverna’s happy-hour menu, my mom ordered one, while I went for a light beer. Both drinks came in brown earthenware (botija) mugs, all the better to keep them cold. After tasting my mom’s cocktail, I immediately knew I had made the wrong choice. I finished my beer and ordered a canchánchara.
The tables began to fill, and a band set up and started playing in front of one of the open doors. We stayed for some happy-hour tapas of corn fritters, fried shrimp, and crab with baked tomatoes. We might have ordered the lobster and stayed all night—the band was just getting started—but we stepped back out into the fading light for a last stroll through the colorful streets, that much brighter after the rain.