by Andy Jarosz

Two men meet in Coppelia, the famous Havana ice-cream parlor. One straight and one gay, the plot follows them as their friendship deepens and things get a little complicado. This is 1970s Cuba, after all, where nothing is as, um, “straight”-forward as it seems.

Strawberry and Chocolate

Those who have seen the movie Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate) will no doubt recognize the scene. This Cuban classic set at a time when intolerance of homosexuality in Cuba was still widespread, was perhaps a surprising choice as Cuba’s first submission for a foreign film Oscar. Strawberry and Chocolate won much international acclaim for portraying in a sensitive and intelligent way the complexities of human relationships. For foreign audiences its backdrop also provided a rare insight into the life of ordinary Cuban citizens.

Today’s young Habaneros may not feel too much connection to a movie that was a hit in their parents’ time, but they will certainly know all about Coppelia, the Havana café that played such a starring role in the movie. A renowned institution among both locals and tourists, a visit to Coppelia is a must for any visit to Havana.

Coppelia and the Most Famous Ice Cream in Cuba

Where else in the world do people happily wait an hour in line just to be served a few scoops of ice cream? It might not offer the finest of Cuban cuisine but such is the popularity of Coppelia that the lines wrap around the block, and waiting for an ice cream becomes a major social event. Families, friends and strangers will catch up on the latest gossip and conduct their own affairs while waiting patiently to savor this Cuban delight.

To say they wait in line is not strictly accurate. It’s the custom to ask “who’s last?” and then just remember your turn according to this method. It seems to work and the only challenge is eating the ice cream before it melts in the sweltering Cuban heat. Well, that and getting the flavor you want. Despite proclaiming a range, they typically serve only two or three flavors on any one day – usually strawberry and chocolate.

Visiting Coppelia

Foreigners are asked to skip the line and head straight to a separate counter where they pay for their ice cream with their CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos), at a higher price of course. You may miss out on the long wait but perhaps you’ll also be missing out on a unique slice of Cuban culture as well.

Photo | Esti

This post originally appeared in the Passport To Iberostar blog.