Preserving Cuba’s cuisine, one pig at a time

April 10, 2012

Patrick Oppmann is CNN’s correspondent based in Cuba and a barbecue enthusiast.

Cubans may live surrounded by water but the food that incites the most passion and culinary debate does not swim or slither. That honor is reserved for puerco asado, pork cooked over coals in the traditional style of the Cuban countryside.

As with many Cubans, Anselmo “Don” Bello swears on his honor that he cooks the best puerco asado on the entire island.

But unlike most of those other would-be top chefs, Bello’s phone rings off the hook each day with people asking him, pleading with him for one of his whole cooked pigs.

“Most people don’t know what a real Creole meal is,” Bello said, referring to the term for the Caribbean’s jumble of European and New World cultures. “The taste of the seasoning, the oregano, the onion, garlic and bitter orange. That’s been lost but we are rescuing it.”

Don Bello is leading his crusade to save Cuba’s culinary traditions in San Antonio del Rio Blanco, a small, country town, an hour inside of Havana.

Next door is the Habana Club Rum Factory and Bello uses leftover barrels as charcoal to cook his pigs. The rum-drenched wood, he claims, is just one of his many secrets towards creating the smoky and tender pork he serves clients.

Along with his love for Cuban cooking, Bello carries something else in his blood: a knack for business.

His nickname – Don Bello – translates to “Sir Gorgeous,” but the prettiest thing about this short, paunchy vendor is his unrelenting, bantering salesmanship.

With the zeal of a boxing promoter hawking a title fight, Bello will talk a visitor’s ear off. He boasts about the care used in raising the pigs, how his ingredients are all natural or about a new promotional gimmick he has thought up. And then his cell phone interrupts with a call from another client.

Only two years ago Bello’s business would have not only been unthinkable, it would have been illegal. Facing a stagnant economy, Cuba’s leaders shifted policy and allowed some private enterprise to take root in the officially socialist country.

Businesses like Don Bello’s both take people off the government payroll system and supply badly needed taxes to the government.

Don Bello charges about $80 for the pork meal that can feed 20 people. The spread includes rice and beans, fried plantains, homemade cake and tender yucca.

“This is typical Cuban food, simple food, the kind you share with your family,” said Ernesto Diaz, a Cuban who lives in Miami and asked Don Bello to cater a meal for his family during his first visit back to Cuba in five years.

Don Bello employs a staff of five who work out the back of his home, among them are his wife Jenny and daughters Brianna and Brenda.

The mammoth charcoal-burning oven Bello uses can fit ten pigs. As the number of orders keep growing, he is planning on building a second oven.

“You are a slave to the business, there are no days off,” Bello said with a wide smile indicating that he actually relishes his newfound success and the headaches that come with it.

Even with the change in legalities in Cuba, entering the once forbidden private sector is no easy task.

Access to ingredients can be irregular at best. Then there is the issue of how to get the word out about his new business in a country where nearly all media is state-run and devoid of advertising.

Bello started by employing promotional flourishes like putting small straw hats on each pig and a Cuban cigar in their mouths. He handed out colorful business cards with each delivery he made.

Word of mouth slowly began to build. In December, Don Bello was invited to show off his cooking on a national TV show, one of the first private entrepreneurs to receive that level of official publicity.

The appearance paid immediate dividends. “It was one for the history books,” Bello said. “I got over thirty calls that day. People were calling like crazy to order. And once people order once, they keep coming back.”

Now, Bello receives calls from outside the country, from Cubans living in Miami and Las Vegas wanting to send a special meal to relatives back home.

Bello tells them to arrange to send the relatives the money for the feast the only way they can – via Western Union – and then gets cooking.

“Maybe they needed a pair of new shoes,” he said. “But that day, they ate pig and rice and beans and really enjoyed themselves.”

Previously – Picking the pig, flipping the hog and Whole hog BBQ – the Mount Everest of meat

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Nicolita Blog

Meet your NEW Favorite Black One Piece Swimsuit

May 31, 2017

The Parrot Black One Piece swimsuit is one swimsuit you cannot live without.

The Save


View full article →

Nicolita Chicas & with their adorable minis!!!

May 29, 2016


View full article →


May 27, 2016

View full article →

Fit Guide and Suggested Styles

Do you hate when your bikini bottoms dig into your hips? Have no fear, Nicolita NO PINCH FIT Cuban Style Bottoms are here!!

Hola! I'm Nicolita owner & designer Nicole Di Rocco. In this video I'll show you why and how we created our signature Nicolita Bottom fit.

Nicolita has one-of-kind swimwear styles that are carefully designed to flatter your figure. Say goodbye to those ill-fitting bikini bottoms and say hello to comfort and fit!

Below are a few of our most popular styles that were designed with YOUR hips in mind.

Welcome to the Nicolita Fitting Room!

I want to help you find the Perfect Fit Nicolita Style. Below I have created a Nicolita Swimwear Fit guide to match your curves with our swimwear options and styles. If you still have questions of which bikini or one piece style would look best with your body shape just Call 866-NICOLITA (866-642-6548)  Email hola@mynicolita, or Skype me @mynicolita.     

Over the last 13 years since I started Nicolita in 2003, I have worked with a lot of Nicolita clients on selecting the perfect swimsuit for them. I'm the first to admit that wearing a bikini or one piece swimsuit can be challenging for the majority of us. Even if you have a rockin' body, there are certain styles that work better on certain body shapes.

But I am a strong believer that there is the perfect swimsuit out there for you. And we have gone ahead and picked out some styles that are flattering for you!

Larger cup sizes (D cup and up)

Women with larger cup sizes are primarily looking for 2 things when trying on swimwear: coverage and support. While going up a size in the top can provide more coverage, some styles just won’t provide the coverage and support you may be looking for. Look for styles with side boning and molded cups to give you the support and coverage you desire, without the pinching of an underwire!

For support and coverage, check out:
Maria Knotty Wrap Twist Top

Molded Push Up Bikini Top


Smaller Bust

Have a smaller bust and want to create the illusion of a bigger chest? Styles with details like ruffles and molded cups will add volume and create cleavage!

For adding volume to a smaller chest, check out:

Haute Dot Bow Tie Bikini Tube Top

Rumba Ruffles Triangle Halter


Broad Shoulders

If you’re looking to tone down the appearance of broad shoulders, look for one-shoulder and detailed tops which will draw attention away from wide set shoulders. Deep V necklines will keep the attention focused on your chest and the low cut back will make your shoulders appear more narrow.

To elongate the torso, check out:

Rumba Ruffles One Shoulder Top

Neon Bloom Deep V One Piece


Not So Curvy

Looking to add more curve to that backside? Look for bottoms with backside details like ruffles, shirring, or our signature knotty bottom. These details add more curve to your bottom and create a more shapely bum. 

To add curves to a not so curvy bottom, check out:

Rumba Ruffles Forgiven Bottom

Signature Knotty Bottom


Tummy Control

We all have those days we would rather cover our midsection. To conceal your midriff while flattering your other assets, look for styles that have shirring throughout the midsection to camouflage any insecurities.

For tummy control, check out:

Deep V One Piece With Shirring

Noche Cha Cha High-Waisted Bottoms


More Coverage Overall

Trying to keep your skin out of the sun, or just desire to be more covered? Look for styles that provide more coverage without sacrificing style, like high-neck tops, high-waist bottoms, and one pieces!

For more coverage, check out:

Gina High Neck One Piece

Retro High Waist Bottom