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Hot Dogs: A Cuban Cultural Experience?

It’s a Friday night in La Habana, Cuba and what is the hottest ticket in town? Would you believe me if I told you that it was a hot dog stand? I wouldn’t have believed myself just six or so weeks ago, but for us living down here in Cuba this hot dog stand has become one of the best parts of our trip, a real hidden gem of Cuba. I have to give a big shout out to the girls on this trip (you know who you are) for finding this place that features a hot dog and a drink for 20 Cuban pesos (equivalent to less than 1 Cuban convertible peso that has a slightly higher value than the US dollar). Of course, the quality of the dogs are hit or miss sometimes (but are always worth getting), and the choices of drink are sometimes outlandish with varying degrees of “cola” – from the popular Tu Kola to Super Cola to the great Stars and Stripes Cola, all of which taste completely different – but this does not at all diminish the desire for familiar American food, which is what we have been craving down here. Because we live in Miramar (an upscale diplomatic neighborhood to the West of central Havana), it is quite a ways into town. So this involves an adventurous bus ride that rivals that of the old wagon trains in the West in the 1800s – it can be said that getting there (and filling our stomachs) is have the battle (or fun, whichever way you look at it). This involves a 20 minute or so bus ride on the so-called guagua, or better known as the P1, in which personal space is of no importance. On any given night the lights on the bus may or may not be on, people may or may not be hanging out of the doors, and you can usually expect there to be young Cubans singing along to Reggaeton music. But enough about getting there, I want to talk about the cultural experience we get every time we go there. Nestled in the heart of the Vedado neighborhood of downtown Havana, the nightlife center of the city, this culinary oasis provides more than just a great lunch (or an even better late night snack while you are out on the town). 23rd and K (its official name), as it turns out, is a great place to experience Cuban culture. More often than not there is a sizeable line stretching down the sidewalk and this gives us an opportunity to take in the atmosphere. As you stand in line, after uttering ultimo to find out where the line ends, you get a sense of the great Cuban culture that Havana offers. There are Cubans of all ages, sizes, and socio-economic gathered in one place with a common interest in mind – good, cheap food. There are young adults out for the night to a club looking for a snack before they hit the dance floor, as well as whole families, couples in love, and wise, old Cuban gentlemen looking for a shot of espresso. It is an organized chaos. Salsa and Reggaeton music plays from multiple unseen speakers. 1950s clunkers and brand new Peugeots race through the intersection, paying no heed to crossing pedestrians – the gesture is mutual. For a moment any hardships – whether economic, personal, familial, or whatever – seem to be forgotten as the lure of tasty, cheap food available 24 hours a day takes over. This culinary oasis is truly one of the great things about this trip and I know there are eight college students that will sorely miss this crazy and exciting place. When we get back it will be replaced by TB and McDonald’s, but we shall never forget this place that sparked many a late night adventure through the streets of Havana.