Last night we finished our bottle of Havana Club with two lingering cocktails. It seemed only sensible to do it while I still remember how to make them they way they did in Cuba. Pay no attention to the recipe quoted in the Guardian last week. Here is how you make a real mojito.
We learned the easy way. Leaning against a dark mahogany bar in the Cafe Taberna while the band played a lunchtime salsa (we liked it all so much we came back later the same day to hear a band featuring two Buena Vista veterans).
Some first day. We had been round the Museum of the Revolution and the Partagas Tobacco Factory. Abel, our guide for the morning, ended the tour in one of his favourite bars in Havana Vieja where he told us the secret of a perfect mojito. Well, actually, two secrets. The first one is cane sugar. Fancy bars around the world make the big mistake of using cane syrup, Abel said, (and Victoria Moore makes the same mistake in her book previewed in the Guardian) but that is not the Cuban way.
There’s no mahogany left growing in Cuba and, with a little US hindrance, the sugar cane industry is not what it was but Abel seemed to know what he was talking about. At any rate, we tried mojitos in all kinds of bars. And whether it was in a private house with Raul Castro giving his evening address from the telly in the corner, or on the rooftop of the Saratoga hotel surrounded by sunbathing tourists, Hemingway’s favourite drink always always came with a crunch at the bottom of the glass. And plenty of mint too, loads of the stuff. None of your delicate sprigs.
The other secret, which Abel kept quiet until our glasses arrived, is Angastura bitters, just enough to add a little hint of pink round the brim.
So, here’s the recipe for a real mojito:
- 2 teaspoons cane sugar
- a splosh of freshly squeezed lime
- 2 sploshes white (Havana Club) rum
- generous handful of mint leaves
- soda water to taste
- 2 or 3 ice cubes, or more if you must
- a tint of Angastura bitters
All the bartenders we saw, seemed to spend a lot of time pummelling the mint, lime and sugar before adding rum, soda, ice and bitters (my friend Helen says you can get the same effect by thwacking the mint on the table first)
Abel, I might add, graduated in English and French language and culture after five years at Havana University (“five really great years”). He has travelled in Spain and France and one day he says he would love to visit the UK. But so far apparently we have refused him a visa.
Salud to Abel and all the other great people we met in Cuba.
Be warned. That first mojito can go to your head.