Are you stuck in Cuba, tired of all those retro cars and have nothing to do? Do you want to visit the USSR but don’t have an intergalactic space machine? No te preocupes, amigo, I have just the place for you. Follow me and let’s eat…
If you check out my Cuba destination guide, we went to Habana for 2 days, then Cienfuegos, then Trinidad for 2 days, and back to Havana (we had to get back home somehow lol). Our tour guide mentioned some kind of Russian restaurant near the center, and seeing how much I freakin’ love the cuisine of my motherland, we couldn’t resist. After a quick ride in our retro taxi cab, we arrived at Nazdarovie.
If you watched any film that has an Eastern European character — usually someone in the mafia or the bad guy
with a shitty accent— you’ve already heard the word nazdarovie (на здоровье). It literally means “to your health” and is one of the few Russian words people know … and use in the wrong context :(
But today’s blog post isn’t going to be a grammar lesson. Oh no, it’s way better. Today I’m going to be reviewing my time at another Nazdarovie – Havana’s only Soviet-themed restaurant. Let’s go check it out!
It was hard to miss the restaurant, especially because there was this cool dude dressed up in the traditional Soviet navy uniform, and who was more than happy to take photos with some potential sunburnt comrades.
Since the restaurant is located on the roof, I had to climb about two or three flights of stairs. Along the way there are vintage propaganda posters from the USSR – the ones above are encouraging records in sports and better quality restaurants.
Once I was inside, it was like stepping back in time to my childhood – retro cartoons were playing on the TV, 90’s music was blasting from the radio, and even the carpet looked like it had been taken from my grandma’s apartment
I’m pretty sure the designer was over the top, because every little detail looked like it was imported back from the Soviet Union. Communist posters, photos of Fidel Castro visiting his buddies in Russia, and little knickknacks like a samovar and nesting dolls decorated the restaurant. They even (somehow?) managed to bootleg a vintage hockey jersey and a huge USSR flag to hang from the walls!
Давайте есть уже…
Let’s eat already…
If you ask any Russian or Ukrainian person how they feel about their national food, most would shrug their shoulders and say something along the lines of “it’s alright.” There’s not much variation and most meals resemble a neat little pie chart of 33% meat, 33% potatoes, and 33%
But not me! I take every chance I can get to sample Russian/Ukrainian food in other countries. Like some sort of KGB food critic, I order my standard meal of vareniki (cherry dumplings) and see how good it is compared to the real thing. This Ukrainian wanna-be jet setter has tasted vareniki in New York City’s Brighton Beach, Japan, Brazil, and even Dubai, so how did Nazdorovie stack up against the competition?
… It didn’t. There were no vareniki on the menu. *Insert sad music from the world’s smallest violin*
Hungary? Czech out this plate of food – aren’t you Russian to eat it too? *ba dum tss*
The vareniki mission didn’t go as planned, so I ordered the Voyage Through the USSR food sampler ($11.50), which included a pickled salad, different types of sausages, pelmeni (dumplings with meat), holubtsi (stuffed cabbage roll), and potato vareniki (!!). The serving size suggested it was for two people, but when you’re hungry, ‘suggested’ is a word that means absolutely nothing.
One of my favorite things about this dish were the sausages – they tasted like the ones from my childhood and were so delicious! I think there were about two or three different types, and they had this amazing smokey taste. The vareniki, of course, made it to the top three, as did the pelmeni, which had lamb and beef.
Voyage through the USSR // Blinchiki with Cheese
Moving on, what’s any good Russian dinner without dessert? If you’re invited for dinner, there’s going to be at least three or four different cakes, cookies, and other sweets waiting at the table – and just like the Godfather, you can’t refuse. ;)
For dessert, we ordered the Blinchiki with cheese ($3.50), which was also pretty good. It’s a thin crepe filled with sweet ricotta/cream cheese and topped with sweet jam and mint. It’s not exactly the same as the one we eat at home, but that’s because Cuba has a shortage of dairy products.
There are tables inside the restaurant and on the balcony, plus a little bar area if you want to stop in for just a drink. If you look at the menu above, Nazdarovie has a ton of drink options – ranging from classic Cuban cocktails like mojitos to imported Russian vodkas.
Also, one really cool fact that I learned was that all the employees of the restaurant are kids of Soviet immigrants. Our waitress’ mom was from Russia and her dad was Cuban, and they even have two Russian grandmas come in and the desserts! She mentioned that there are over 50,000 Russians living in Cuba, especially those who want to relive the culture of the USSR – how cool is that?
На здоровье и до свидания!
Nazdarovie and until we meet again!
That face when you heard too many “In Soviet Russia…” jokes >:(
So, how do I rate my experience at Nazdarovie? I absolutely loved it! While the food wasn’t the same as my grandma’s (she threatened me if I didn’t write that), it was very close to that homemade style that we have in Ukraine, Russia, and the other ex-USSR countries. If you’ve never been to Eastern Europe and want to try the food, here’s your chance – I would recommend the sampler plate to get a little taste of everything, or any of the pelmeni, stroganoff, or shashlik dishes. Everything was reasonably priced and the atmosphere was unique. Don’t say I didn’t warn you if you end up booking a trip to Kyiv or Moscow.
For more info, you can check out their website at http://www.nazdarovie-havana.com/ or visit them at Malecon # 25, Havana!
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