The origins of Arroz à la Cubana are a little hazy. We know that the Spanish dish literally translates to Cuban-style rice, but the version as we Filipinos know it is neither truly Spanish nor Cuban. Versions of it exist in other former Spanish colonies, typically including a sofrito (a Spanish tomato-based sauce with many regional variations), rice, fried egg, and plantains—not a single speck of meat.
The Filipino Arroz à la Cubana is almost unrecognizable when compared side-by-side to these versions. The most obvious difference: Ours has meat! Then, instead of a sofrito, we sauté the ground beef or pork in tomato paste. Saba bananas take the place of fried plantains. To round it out as a complete ulam, we add potatoes, raisins, and sometimes even carrots and peas. Interestingly, it’s just a bit of tomato sauce and a few boiled eggs away from being a giniling stew.
Hazy history and uncanny resemblance to other Filipino dishes aside, this dish is a staple in most Pinoy households. It’s a hearty, satisfying, and uncomplicated dish that’s perfect for days when you want dinner on the table in half an hour.
Saba is the best banana to fry up to serve alongside a Filipino Arroz à la Cubana, as it’s not too sweet and starchy when cooked. But, if you don’t have any on hand or you just can’t find any at your local markets, other kinds of bananas will work! Other countries’ versions of Arroz à la Cubana use different bananas depending on what’s available, so it’s not the end of the world if you can’t get your hands on saba.
- ½ cup finely diced white onion
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 lb (about 450g) ground beef
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- ¾ cup water
- ⅔ cup diced potatoes, in ½-inch cubes
- ¼ cup raisins
- ½ pc beef broth cube
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 4-5 pcs saba bananas, halved
- 4-5 whole eggs
- salt and pepper, to taste
Sauté: In a pan, heat 1 tbsp of oil over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic until translucent and fragrant. Add ground beef and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the beef mixture across the pan in an even layer and let cook (do not touch!) for 3-5 minutes. This will caramelize the beef and render out its fat. Continue to cook until 80% of the beef has browned.
Add seasonings: Add tomato paste and mix until evenly incorporated into the beef mixture. Cook for a few minutes until the tomato paste turns slightly brown, like a dark brick red. Add water, potatoes, and raisins. Crumble in the beef cube and mix until fully dissolved. Cook mixture until the potatoes are fork-tender. Season with Worcestershire sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt or pepper as needed.
Fry saba and egg: In a separate pan, heat a bit of oil over medium-high heat. Fry saba until golden brown on both sides. In the same pan, fry eggs sunny-side-up and season with salt. Serve Arroz à la Cubana alongside fried saba, sunny-side-up eggs, and freshly cooked white rice.