No Christmas presents in Cuba or a story of Coconut Rice Pudding

Rice Pudding During that last minute rush before Christmas, when everybody was trying to catch up and buy those last few presents for their relatives I had my final exam.  I met a girl there and we began chatting.   She told me...

Rice Pudding
Rice Pudding

During that last minute rush before Christmas, when everybody was trying to catch up and buy those last few presents for their relatives I had my final exam.  I met a girl there and we began chatting.   She told me that straight after the exam she was going home to pick up her luggage and catch a flight to Cuba.  Maybe not that extraordinary for North Americans,  but for us Europeans Cuba is a synonym of a really exotic country, and flying there 3 days before Christmas doesn´t sound like she will be coming back in a few days.

So, I curiously asked her more.  She said “my family is quite big,  I have 3 sisters and every one of them lives in a different part of the world.  The USA, Thailand, London and me, in Prague.  So every year we set a different place to meet up at Christmas. The first year Alice moved to Thailand we went there, the same with Sandra in London“.  Extraordinary, I was thinking. But that was not all, she continued.   “The first year we did this international Christmas, we didn´t give each other presents as our luggage did not allow it, and you know what?  Since then we stick to this new tradition and celebrate Christmas without presents.“ At that moment I was sure that this was an untraditional family.

Firstly, I thought this was a real step against tradition, but the more I thought about it the better it seemed. There are so many other occasions where you can gift your relatives such as their birthday, namesday, anniversary, Valentine´s day, even giving souvenirs when you arrive home from vacation... but then Christmas comes and you suddenly need to buy presents for all of those who you were buying present for one by one during the year.   This may not be a good idea for families with children, but for families of adults only it seems like an absolutely great idea to meet somewhere, share a great meal,  and spend some time chatting with no stress involved.

What I was interested in was the place they were about to spend this Christmas Eve.  We always book a table at a restaurant where they serve local dishes which allows us to sample foods from a different culture every year.  “This year our menu includes pig roast with rice and black beans which is supposed to be a typical Cuban Christmas dish.  For dessert they serve a variety of puddings and we have chosen the coconut pudding, but there was also a Rum version and the typical bread pudding Diplomatico.  Throughout the night the meal will be accompanied by Mojitos, Cuban eggnog and cider so it seems like a pretty awesome night, can´t wait!“

So we successfully passed the exam, wished each other merry Christmas and went in our own directions. This girl made me think a lot that day about what it would be like if our family celebrated feasts in that way. The next day when I finally arrived home after being away for two months I was persuaded that this is the way I want it to be.  Home is home and nothing else could feel that way.  Wishing you an amazing holidays surrounded by those you love (presents or not)!


Coconut rice pudding with caramelized spiced apples


  • 300g Arborio rice
  • 400ml of coconut cream
  • 200ml milk
  • ½ vanilla pod
  • 6 tbl s. crystal sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 apples
  • 2 tbs s. of vanilla sugar
  • 2 tbl s. of butter
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon



  1. Rinse the rice with water to get rid of any unwanted particles, drain it and put into a medium thick-bottomed pot.
  2. Add ½ coconut cream and ½ milk, sugar and mix well.
  3. Scrape out the seeds from vanilla pod and incorporate in the rice mixture as well.
  4. Put on medium heat and bring to a boiling point stirring often. Then lower the heat and continue cooking, stirring and adding the rest of liquids until the rice is tender (the same process as when making risotto, takes about 20 min). You may also add some water if it seems too rich for you.
  5. Meanwhile peel the apples, remove the core and cut into slices about 0.5cm thick.

    Caramelizing Apples
    Caramelizing Apples

  6. Caramelize the sugar in a big pan, add butter cinnamon, star anise stars and sliced apples and sauté for about 3 minutes until the apples are tender outside and still have a little crisp inside.
  7. Serve the warm rice garnished with caramelized apples. You can also add some grated coconut or additional cinnamon.


A little word on STAR ANISE...

  • Star anise, star aniseed, or Chinese star anise
  •  has its origin in the East – China, Vietnam
  • contains ANETHOL – the same substance that you find in anise that gives them both their characteristic flavour
  • do you know GALLIANO? It is an Italian liquor of yellow color (giallo meaning yellow in Italian) with spicy taste of anise
  • not surprisingly, as many spices, it was recommended to chew anise after meals to improve digestion
  • It is said that anise prevents rheumatism and inflammation