Written by Kieran Proctor

A Cuban Superpower – Sniffing Out Cockroaches

Don’t laugh, but I’ve recently learned that Cuban’s have an innate ability for sniffing out whether or not cockroaches, have ...

Don’t laugh, but I’ve recently learned that Cuban’s have an innate ability for sniffing out whether or not cockroaches, have been on particular foodstuffs.

I came home with a honey coated, peanut bar. Sitting down to eat it, my Cubans did what they always do. They hustled for free food. So I gave them a piece. Only to watch as they tore off through the house, toward the toilet, to spit it out.

Odd, I thought. But I began hearing cries of ‘don’t eat that‘. And this was the moment, I learnt that Cuban’s have an innate ability, a sixth sense as you will, for sniffing out the lingering odor left by cockroaches.

And now, whenever I buy something from a street vendor, I always give the first piece to the nearest Cuban. If there’s been cockroaches on that food, you’ll see the Cuban running for a bin. Which is about the only time you’ll see a Cuban running.

How Do Cubans Know What A Cockroach Smells Like?

Apparently, they all learned what a cockroach smells like, from their mothers and grandmothers. They were trained from young ages, to beware of the faintest of odors left by a cockroach.

In Cuba at various times, food has been scarce. And being the little capitalists that they are, Cubans will hoard in demand items until the prices increase enough. And food is no exception.

When I was here for three months during COVID, eggs were routinely making people sick. And it was pointed out to me, that the common egg was a staple in Cuban kitchens. Thus, it was an in demand item. So, a number of industrious little Cubans, began hoarding the eggs and reselling them when the prices went up.

The only problem was, that the eggs were hoarded in temperatures over 30ºC (86°F). They’d be washed, so the average Cuban couldn’t detect the cockroach smell. But these eggs would make everyone sick when consumed.

Because of the egg hoarding during COVID, I went for an entirely seafood diet for in Cuba, just to avoid the eggs. Seafood for 3 meals a day, is no bueno.

On locally produced long life foods, or even items that can stay in a shop for a day or two, cockroaches can taint them. My peanut bar would have been fine in storage, for several months, provided cockroaches didn’t get to them.

Food items can spend a long time in storage in Cuba. It’s why Cuba isn’t a destination for foodies.

So, all the grandmothers and mothers of Cuba, teach their children to sniff out roaches. A cockroach tainted item might not produce the immediate (and common) regret, that you may get on the island, when a restaurant’s food safety standards aren’t up to code.

Cockroach tainted items might not produce the regret you feel, as you run off to the toilet immediately after a meal. But you will regret eating cockroach contaminated foods. Whether it’s someone telling you later, or because you wind up getting sick.

To protect themselves and their families, Cuban ladies have learned to sniff out roaches. And they’ve taught their sons and daughters to do the same. Cubans will always continue to knowingly sell contaminated foods to each other, for a quick buck. Thus, it’s a necessary life skill on the island, to be able to spot these items.

Can Cockroach Contaminated Foods Make You Sick?

Cockroach contaminated foods can make you sick in Cuba. The sewers in Cuba, aren’t in the greatest of shape. And the cockroaches can come directly out of sewers, filled with human waste.

You need to take care not to eat anything contaminated by cockroaches in Cuba. Cockroaches carry bacteria and microorganisms, that cause food poisoning, diarrhea and staphylococcus infections.

If a Cuban says your food smells like cockroaches, definitely don’t eat it. And if you can, stick to seafood, because no matter how cunning they may be, Cubans can’t hoard seafood. Have you ever smelt seafood, a week after it’s caught? Yeah, you can guarantee that they won’t be hoarding seafood.

What To Do If You Get Sick?

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know I don’t travel to Cuba without a strong medical insurance policy, that includes medical evacuation.

I haven’t need to use my medical insurance policy in Cuba. But I have spent countless hours over my various trips, sitting on the toilet, thanks to poor Cuban hygiene standards.

If you were to get seriously ill and need medical attention, using your medical insurance policy to fly out of Cuba, is your best option. The hospitals here in Cuba are useless.

Yet, if you want to ensure you don’t get sick, or at least minimize the number of times you do find yourself sitting on the toilet holding a bucket, you should adopt a Cuban.

Take them out with you, to eat. If they won’t eat at an establishment, or won’t touch a particular food, you shouldn’t either. Because they’ve learnt from their mothers and grandmothers, to sniff out cockroaches and contaminated comida.

Cockroach contaminated food in Cuba

Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?

I’ve made my Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba available on this website. And I recommend you read it, before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.

My Cuba travel guide will save you a lot of time and money on your next trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can arrive unprepared. Read the most complete Cuba Travel Guide.