An Authentic Cuban Mojito Recipe from Old Havana – With a Cambodian Twist
This authentic Cuban mojito recipe is based on the mojitos we sipped in Old Havana on our first trip to Cuba in the mid-Nineties. It’s a refreshing drink that is a perfect sip for a sultry day in the tropics. As we live in Siem Reap, we gave it a Cambodian twist.
This authentic Cuban mojito recipe is based on the countless rum-based mojito cocktails that we sipped on our first trip to Cuba in the mid-Nineties. Thirst quenching and refreshing, it was just the thing we needed after hours spent in a sweat strolling the empty streets of Old Havana or ambling along the Malecon.
An Authentic Cuban Mojito Recipe
This authentic Cuban mojito recipe is the recipe we learnt on our first trip to Cuba in the mid 1990s. There was very little tourism in Cuba at the time and the country was incredibly under-developed – wonderful from a travellers’ perspective, but not for the locals, for whom life could be challenging. Still, we’ve never seen such happy people, perhaps not until we came to Cambodia.
It was largely European tourists exploring Old Havana – late middle-aged Spanish, Italian and French men mainly, there for the Cuban women – while Canadians were flocking to the beaches of Varadero. We were there for the history, culture and local life – to soak it up as much as to photograph it. I’d finished my communications degree, majoring in film and writing, and Terence was still completing his, concentrating on film and photography and it was only a year earlier that we’d purchased our first Nikon cameras for a trip to Mexico.
At the end of a morning exploring and photographing every nook and cranny of the crumbling, faded, pastel-painted city, we’d retreat to the nearest café or bar for sustenance, hoping that they’d have something for us to eat – although we knew there’d always be a drink. Drenched in sweat, we’d sink into chairs and order our Cuban mojitos – usually served in modest glass tumblers, partly dissolved white sugar sitting in the bottom, and packed with aromatic mint. Getting something to eat was another story.
We would generally have finished the first mojito (they were a dollar!) by the time the waiter returned to report on what the kitchen was able to rustle up for us for lunch – because, despite having menus listing various dishes, cafés and restaurants in Havana at the time didn’t actually have any food.
When the waiter returned it would always be the same – we could have a bocadito con queso y jamonada, a bread roll with cheese and the Cuban equivalent of Spam. The bread would always be inexplicably stale, the cheese the only saving grace, and there was rarely real jamon (ham) – despite us tasting wonderful whole roasted pig at the end of our two-week stay.
This was because poor old Cuba was in its ‘Special Period’, experiencing an economic depression that was so severe that there were shortages of everything, from fuel and energy (there was no electricity in part of the city at night and the streets were pitch-black dark) to food. Fortunately, one thing Cuba wasn’t short of was rum. We essentially survived on mojitos. We didn’t complain. We had an incredible time.
The Most Authentic Cuban Mojito Recipe – La Bodeguita del Medio or La Floridita
We sipped authentic Cuban mojitos everywhere, including the most famous of Old Havana bars – La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio. We loved the legendary cocktail bar La Floridita the most. Despite looking a bit faded and worn around the edges (and having the most expensive drinks in town), it was still elegant and atmospheric.
La Floridita was more renowned for its daiquiris, although the bartenders nevertheless mixed a fine mojito. At the time, we thought their mojito was better than the bar that claimed to invent it, La Bodeguita del Medio, which boasted that it had been mixing mojitos continuously since it opened in 1942. Of course, historians now dispute this, some claiming the cocktail dates back to the 16th century.
Amongst the myriad memorabilia and countless autographs, inscriptions and doodles that filled the graffiti-covered walls at La Bodeguita del Medio – including autographs from famous patrons that had included Salvador Allende, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fidel Castro, Nat King Cole, and Harry Belafonte and more – was a line by the great writer Ernest Hemingway: “My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita”.
The mojitos at La Bodeguita del Medio must have been better in Hemingway’s day. I have based on authentic Cuban mojito recipe of that of La Bodeguita del Medio, which includes just sugar, lime, mint, rum, and soda water. I think their’s was perhaps a little weaker than other’s and they didn’t pack the glass with mint leaves, as some bars and cafés did.
What I didn’t realise at the time, but have since learnt on La Floridita’s own website was that their authentic Cuban mojito recipe includes the addition of Angostura bitters and that they Havana Club Añejos 3 Años – a pale yellow 3-year old rum. I’ve included white rum in the recipe below, but you can use either.
I have to say that it was an unexpected delight to discover La Floridita’s website, because when we were in Cuba the rest of the world hadn’t been using the internet for very long and it would be a few more years before Cubans were able to get online, and even then it was tough. On a later trip, for the Havana International Film Festival, I once wasted several hours in the government office of my host trying to send an email by Hotmail. It failed.
On that first trip to Cuba there was very little to buy, so we packed our bags with liquid souvenirs – bottles of Havana Club rum, naturally.
Authentic Cuban Mojito Recipe – With a Cambodian Twist
This authentic Cuban mojito recipe is based on the mojitos we sipped on our first trip to Cuba in the mid-Nineties. It’s a refreshing drink that is a perfect sip for a sultry summer’s day. As we live in Siem Reap, we gave it a Cambodian twist and made it even more aromatic by adding kaffir lime leaves and a lemongrass stalk.
Note that the limes and mint should only be lightly muddled, and if you add kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass, just crush one kaffir lime leaf slightly and only bash the base of the lemongrass stalk – you want to release the aromas and flavours without smashing your ingredients.
A note on glasses: Use a 236 ml or 8 oz glass. In Cuba it’s acceptable to use either a tall glass (a simple tumbler, highball or collins glass, which can hold 8-16 ounces) or short glass (old-fashioned, lowball or rocks glass, which typically hold 6-8 oz). A mojito is a cocktail that drinkers continue to stir, further crushing the mint and lime, so a taller glass allows for this, although I’ve opted for the shorter glass here.
- 2 tsp white sugar
- 1 lime
- ½ bunch of mint
- 45 mls / 1 ½ oz of white rum – we like Havana Club
- 90 mls / 3 oz soda water
- Ice cubes
- To give your mojito a Cambodian twist:
- 2 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 lemongrass stalk
- Cut the lime in half, put one half aside and chop the other half into small pieces.
- Squeeze the other lime half into a tall or short 8 oz glass (see above) and add 2 teaspoons of white sugar, and stir vigorously until a lot (but not necessarily all) sugar is dissolved.
- Add 8-10 mint leaves (no stems) and the rest of the lime and lightly muddle.
- Pour in the white rum, add ice, fill with soda water, and stir.
- Fill the glass with springs of mint.
- You have an authentic Cuban mojito!
To give your mojito a Cambodian twist:
- Crush one kaffir lime leaf lightly, add and stir, then add the second leaf as garnish.
- Cut the lemongrass stalk to size so it resembles a straw, bash the root to release the aromas and flavours, and pop it into the glass.
If you enjoyed this recipe, try our Classic Champagne Cocktail recipe with a Tropical Fruit Twist.