Beyond the ever-popular garlic and onions, other common spices used in Cuban cooking are bay laurel, oregano, coriander, cumin and pepper.
Hispanic culture permeates everything in Little Havana - colorful murals, monuments to heroes past and present, elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics and cigar rollers deep at work amidst Little Havana's ever-present aroma of Cuban coffee.
For a relatively small country Cuba has lots of culinary abundance, even if the vagaries of rationing and state-run restaurants can obscure its dynamic potential.
A good example is the cuisine of Eastern Cuba, which borrows generously from Caribbean and African culinary traditions in its use of coconut, chocolate, honey, annatto seeds and other spices.
Cuban food uses fresh ingredients prepared simply, often in stews, soups and sandwiches. Instead it combines aromatic ingredients like tomatoes, garlic, green bell pepper, chorizo and onion with olive oil over low heat.
Meats are slow roasted until they're falling-off-the-bone tender. Sofrito is often used to add depth and complexity to rice and bean dishes, soups and stews.
Birthdays and weddings are big family celebrations, of course, and the following holidays and festivals are also big island events.In 1969, Fidel Castro had Christmas stricken from the official calendar, and it didn't resurface until Pope John Paul II visited the island in 1996.