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Dinner Gives Obama a Taste of Cuban Business Reforms

FILE - Cuba began permitting home-based restaurants, called 'paladares,' in the 1990s and eased rules that sped their increase after 2011. This one is in Santiago, Cuba. (VOA)

The Obama family’s first meal in Cuba Sunday evening provided a taste of change on the socialist island. They dined in central Havana at San Cristobal, an in-home restaurant called a paladar that reflects recent growth in private enterprise.

Once, only state-run restaurants were permitted. Paladares have been legal since the 1990s, but, as Saveur magazine explains, the government set rules such as limiting the number of seats to 12 and restricting ingredients only to what was available from a state-run market. No beef or lobster was allowed.

Paladares have increased since 2011, when Cuba began implementing reforms to the socialist economic system that allowed for some private ownership of business. They now outnumber state-run restaurants, Saveur reports.

San Cristobal is named for chef-owner Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés. It "specializes in Cuban food with Spanish elements and caters mainly to tourists and foreign visitors, as the prices are too high for most locals," the Havana Times reported Sunday.

The Obama administration has been pressing for more economic exchange with the island since plans to restore diplomatic ties were announced in late 2014.