Havana Bread

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Tourism is Cuba’s third largest source of foreign currency, behind the two dominant industries of sugar and tobacco. The number of visitors so far in 2016 jumped 13.5 percent over the year to 1.5 million tourists. However, the hunt for novelty in Cuba doesn’t conceal its disquieting poverty and struggles: lack of regulation on sex work, ungovernable black markets and creaky infrastructure. Everyday in Havana, we inevitably enjoyed the material comforts like all the other tourists while investigating the power relations of the nation as the artists.

This project calls attention to the actions of each individual, using the nation’s subsidized, soft, sweet, round daily buns as the vehicle. Made of imported flour, sugar, dry yeast and water, the daily bun tastes nothing but pale flour. Collaborating with IFF (International Flavor and Fragrance), we designed the bread with a complete flavor that balances the nuances of gasoline, sweat and white ginger flower (the national flower of Cuba).

The final presentation is a participatory dining experience with the audience. Freshly baked bread is served. Each audience member is invited to break the bread, bite, chew and swallow. The hints of unpleasant taste and smell do not drive the diners away immediately. The bread’s subtle, odd flavor makes one not so much sick as disquieted, just as the warm and sensual Havana nights do.


On April 1, 2017, Nolan, Noa, Laura and I went for a walk in the old Havana. Without a plan, we stepped into a local, government owned bakery which produces the daily Cuban breads. I have tried to enter another bakery in the neighborhood we lived in. Though a local student helped me with translation, we were not allowed to enter the kitchen because the bakery is owned by the government. “Institution! No” was the end of that conversation last time.

On the contrary, the owner of the bakery in old Havana was surprisingly friendly. He invited us in and showed us his production line. We even had the privilege to document everything. He told us that they have been making the same buns for twenty years. He described them as “soft, round, sweet”. The bread making procedure is half automated, half manual. The owner was especially proud that despite the fact that the bun is shaped by hand, they all are exact the same. With the help of several huge mixers, each batch of dough is about 100 pounds. The oven is deep inside the wall, about 5 feet in depth, and able to bake more than 100 buns at one time. The two bakeries revealed the double sides of Cuba: its institutional peremptoriness and domestic hospitality. ~ Xin