State - INACTIVE

The Cuban Sandwich Crisis: Which City in Florida Has the Legitimate Claim to the Cuban Sandwich?

Luis Vera with a Cuban sandwich in his house. He claims to be the first one to bring the sandwich to Miami from Cuba. El Nuevo Herald file photo.
Luis Vera with a Cuban sandwich in his house. He claims to be the first one to bring the sandwich to Miami from Cuba. El Nuevo Herald file photo.

Call it the Cuban Sandwich Crisis. Two cities, Tampa and Miami, are locked in a battle to claim the Cuban sandwich as its own.

A Cuban sandwich is shredded pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and dill pickles – served either cold or hot-pressed on Cuban bread. Think of it as the ham-and-cheese for the guayabera set.

Tampa’s version includes salami. Each city uses differently-shaped bread. You might find mayo on the sandwich in Tampa. Those are about the only substantive differences.

Most food historians agree the sandwich was invented in Tampa's Ybor City. On Thursday, the Tampa City Council officially renamed it the “Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich.”

Thus, the gauntlet was thrown.

“Oh. Wow,’’ Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said. “Tampa certainly has a tradition, but salami is for pizza.’’

So our newsrooms -- WLRN in Miami and WUSF in Tampa -- have taken it upon ourselves to settle this debate, with your help. We are engaged in an air war and cyberbattle to determine, “¿Quien es mas macho?”

The rules for this are simple: 300 words or less online, and 100 seconds of audio in a virtual taste test.

So, who has better claim? Cast your vote now.

MIAMI'S CASE (by Dan)

I walked into El Pub Restaurante in Little Havana and was immediately greeted in Spanish by a hyperkinetic Cuban woman. The smell of locally baked Cuban bread was thick in the air. She ushered me into a seat at the counter and slapped down a paper placemat with an illustrated map of Florida. Orlando had a drawing of the Magic Kingdom. Cape Canaveral had the Spaceship Endeavor. Miami had a rooster, two dominos and a smiling man in an historic guayabera shirt. I forget what Tampa had.

My waitress put a sweating glass of ice-cold water on my placemat and took my order.

“Un sandwich cubano, por favor,” I said. “Y un café con leche.”

“Ah, qué bien hablas español,” she cooed.

“Y una croqueta de jamón,” I said.

She gasped in joy.

A man behind a Plexiglas divider crafted my sandwich. He wielded a two-foot long serrated knife, long enough to cut down a tree. He split a loaf of Cuban bread, smeared a pat of room-temperature butter, wiped the knife against his white apron, carved from a slab of dripping roast pork, wiped his knife, added slices of sweet ham and queso suizo, wiped, smeared yellow mustard, wiped, then expertly flipped a single pickle slice into the air. It arced like a LeBron James three pointer and landed—swish—onto the open face of my Historic Miami Cuban Sandwich.

I didn’t need to tell him to hold the salami.

He put the bulging sandwich into a hot press and put his full body weight into its compression. Thirty seconds later my steaming sandwich emerged. It was meat-lovers heaven in a flaky crunchy shell. He cut the sandwich diagonally and slid it toward me. I’ve never been to Cuba, but I know what it tastes like.

TAMPA'S CASE (by Scott)

Miami is trying to steal the sandwich from Tampa. And yes, after the Cuban revolution, Miami became the undisputed capital of Cuban America.

Cubans in Tampa have a different history. They came to Tampa a century ago to make cigars.

They brought along their bread – with its crispy crust that breaks into a million crumbs, and its sweet, airy middle.

(It’s so good, La Segunda Bakery in Tampa says they ship thousands of loaves to Miami every day – including Miami-Dade County Schools.)

In Tampa, Cubans quickly mixed with others – like Italians. Their Genoa salami is an ingredient that’s missing in the Miami version of the sandwich. Miami’s mayor might say, oddly, that salami belongs on pizza – but its salty greasiness is the perfect foil for mustard, pickle and Swiss cheese.

Tampa’s Cubans married those Italians, Spaniards and others and formed a pan-Latin community – and a pan-Latin sandwich.

One more thing: Greater Miami is also home to Oneal Ron Morris, the unlicensed "doctor" arrested after allegedly injecting caulk and fix-a-flat tire sealant into the rear ends of her patients.

What, you might ask, would drive people to a quack like Morris? Walk around South Beach in Miami and look at all the silicone-injected beauty, and you’ll feel so paranoid about your body you might be temped to do radical things.

But when I go to the beaches around Tampa, I walk away feeling pretty good about my body. We’re a let-it-all-hang-out sort of place – think “Margaritaville,” not “Miami Vice.”

Just like the Cuban Sandwich. It’s not fancy, or beautiful. It grew out of the need for cigar workers in Tampa to have an affordable lunch.

Miami can keep the haute cuisine and the plastic surgery. Give me white-sand beaches, a hot pressed Cuban sandwich, and a beer – in other words, Tampa!

Scott is News Director at WUSF in Tampa. Dan is News Director at WLRN in Miami.

  Comments