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What goes on at a Cuban birthday party?

In Miami especially, birthday parties have become as competitive as weddings and quinces. Even for a first birthday party, the young tike can expect an elaborately catered event with a large outdoor tent and linen tablecloths. Pony rides, a bouncing house, an ice cream machine, and full bar are expected. To really impress, one needs to trot out a pony or two for the kids, plus live music and maybe a few clowns. A six or eight-piece mariachi band is a frequent sight.

Although most birthday parties are ostensibly for the children, they are truly for the adults as well. When 10-year-old Ofelia has her party, her guest list includes all her friends and their parents. No one just drops off his or her child at a Cuban birthday party. Large platters of food greet the arriving guests: miniature pasteles de queso y guayaba (cheese and guava pastries), croquetas (ham croquettes), and bocaditos (soft rolls filled with ham paste.) For the adults there is liquor and dancing and always a main dish to look forward to, such as lechón asado (Cuban pork roast) or arroz con pollo (chicken with rice.)
¡Feliz Cumpleaños! by Tony Mendoza Copyright ©2008.
In other respects, Cuban birthday parties are just like traditional American parties. Even in Cuba, no birthday party was complete without an American-style birthday cake. Having a great cake was a status symbol. Although the best cakes came from bakeries, in most neighborhoods a “cake lady” made delicious cakes in her home. Cuban birthday cakes in Miami carry on the tradition with elaborate designs, multiple layers, and vibrant colored frostings. Plastic decorations dot the top of the cake and lucky children find a small candy attached to the bottom of the decoration. At some parties, if a child discovers a candy this way they win a small prize!

Cuban birthday parties also feature treasure hunts for the children with clues written on slips of paper. The clues lead to small caches of hidden toys and candy.

Cuban birthday parties may feature Latin music, but when it comes time to blow out the candles, everyone sings the traditional “Happy Birthday” song in English. Even in Cuba, it was common for exclusively Spanish speaking people to sing the song phonetically in English. The staunchly traditional sing the birthday song entirely in Spanish. There is also a traditional birthday song called "Las Mañanitas del Rey David," (“the mornings of King David.”) However today you only hear it at parties where they have hired Mariachis, usually for the adults.

Visit the Tony Mendoza website: to see many great Cuban and Miami themed artworks!
This new Kindle version contains all of the recipes and editorial copy from the original print edition. As a bonus, the new Kindle edition includes 24 new photos of the prepared dishes.



This new Kindle version contains all of the recipes and editorial copy from the original print edition. As a bonus, the new Kindle edition includes 14 new photos of the prepared dishes.


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