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Jan 10, 2007 06:43 PM

Mortadella on a Cuban? [moved digression from Boston board]

[We moved this non-local digression from this thread on the Boston board


I interviewed the owner of the Montrose (Eddy Tabit) and Paul O'Connell over at Chez Henri about their Cubanos awhile back. Tabit immigrated to the US post-revolution and according to him, while mortadella wasn't common in the Havana sandwich, it was frequently used on other parts of the island. Given that the Cubano was likely an import in the first place, (Cuban chefs were training in Europe prior to the revolution and brought a lot of French and Italian techniques into the cuisine.) the "correct" version is sort of a snipe hunt.

Personally, I like the mortadella, it adds a nice peppery bite to the sandwich. On the other hand, I had a place try to foist corned beef on me once (clearly celebrating the unsung Irish influence on Cuban cuisine) and that was just awful. With the Montrose, I'm sure they're happy to leave the mortadella off if it offends you.

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  1. As a point of clarity, when you say "Revolution", in two instances, are you referring Castro's, the French revolution or what? The reason I ask is because, as posted by others here and the link I provided above, the sandwich has been in The States since the late 1800's. It followed the cigar industry first to Key West and then on to Tampa.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Harp00n

      In both cases I'm referring to Castro obviously, but you make a valid point. At what point does it become "authentic" though? According to Tabit, the Cubano pretty much ceased to exist in Cuba after 1959 because the ingredients were no longer readily available. Is the correct sandwich the American version, the the "last" recipe to leave Cuba or the version made with Arakak cheese? (I'm a bit dubious about that part of the article.) It's rather like trying to define the canonical "Italian" sub. Too many fingers stirring the pots.

      1. re: Bricoleur

        This article may help clarify things. It seems that the ingredients for an authentic cubano have been a "moving target" for quite some time. Started on wheat bread with the crusts cut off, included chicken at one point, wasn't toasted till much later, may or may not involve fresh roasted ham or shaved pork sausage, etc.....all of which would be considered heresy now.

        I say let the chefs have fun bringing their own style to a great dish...if their experiment stinks, don't eat it and they'll stop doing it. Also, most restaurants take requests on something as easy to prep as a cubano....if you tell them no mortadella and more sliced ham instead, they'll accomidate.

        1. re: Bricoleur

          Some of your points are definitely valid and well taken. My intent is not to engage in polemics but Mr.Tabit is mistaken. It's not like the critical ingredients were some obscure artesanal cheese and Serrano ham, for example. After '59 I'm sure some thing were a bit harder to get or pay for on a regular basis. That doesn't mean that they didn't have them at all just less frequently especially in the cities & larger towns.

          I have both a friend and a cousin who are USN vets. They served separate tours at GITMO,Cuba in the 70's & 80's. They both used to wax on about the larceny required to secure said same sandwich from the villages in the the no-go-zone, i.e. off base.

          There is , obviously, always going to be a divergence of opinion as to the best way to prepare, serve, or eat any number of "dishes". Hey, that's half of the fun in this life at least for those of a certain bent, present company included.

          Now. what's the only "proper" way to prepare a classic Bolognese? :-)

          1. re: Harp00n

            But I digress...For some unknowable reason, when the thread was spit from the Boston board, this terrific link didn't make it.
            So here it is again:


      2. Mat Schaffer in reviewing El Oriental De Cuba in the Boston Herald of 2/16/07 wrote the following; (excerpts)

        A Cuban sandwich is a delicious combination of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese , pickles and ball park mustard, layered inside crusty bread and grilled in a plancha--sandwich press--until the cheese melts. See for yourself at El Oriental De Cuba, self-proclaimed "home of the best Cuban sandwich in Boston."

        "Do you want an 'original' Cubano or with 'everything'?" asked the smiling woman behind the counter when I placed my order one recent lunchtime.

        "What's 'everything'?" I responded.

        "It's for yanquis," interjected owner Nobel Garcia with a chuckle - he was standing nearby and apparently listening to the exchange. "In Cuba, you'd never put lettuce, tomato, onions or mayonnaise on a sandwich Cubano."

        He would know. In the mid-1950's, a young Garcia came to to the United States from Cuba with his parents.