Arts & Culture
4:13 pm
Fri April 20, 2012

The Cuban Sandwich Crisis: The Case for Miami

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 Genoa salami. Each city uses differently-shaped bread. 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?”

So, who has better claim? Here is Miami's argument, by WLRN News Director Dan Grech.

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.

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