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The Cuban Sandwich Crisis: The Case for Tampa

Cuban Sandwich Tampa.jpg
Jim Thoree
Former Tampanian Jim Thoree makes his own version of the Cuban Sandwich

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 Tampa's argument, from WUSF News Director Scott Finn.

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 Finn is a former news director at WUSF Public Media, which provides in-depth reporting for Tampa Bay and all of Florida.
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