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May 21, 2007 09:41 PM

Cuban Sandwich: Philosophy

I am a new transplant to Miami and I am facinated by the differences of opinion on this humble yet delicious sandwich. My thread is, "what makes a great cuban sandwich great? "
Since I have arrived, I have found a few factors that I enjoy;
1. Puerto Rican bread instead of Cuban bread. (obviously I am not worried about authenticiy) - I find it has a fuller body/crumb to it.
2. Buppies half sour pickles - great crunch! Also, i think the kosher brand is an apt choice for Miami. (never mind that it is a pork based sandwich)
3. Searing the ham before putting it in the sandwich - A time consuming yet rewarding step. A carmelized exterior intensifies the smoky goodness.
4. My girl friend's mojo sour cream. - She won't tell me what is in it, but there is definately garlic, jalepeno, and lime. She says it's important to use it sparingly, otherwise you overpower the...
5 Mustard - I am embarrassed to admit it, but I like Frenches yellow on this sandwich.
Please hold forth! (cheese, layering order, diffiering opinions on the items listed above, etc.)
Be specific!

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  1. I went to high school in Miami, where my awesome Spanish teacher would bring in all the ingredients (and his sandwich press) for Cuban sandwich parties in class, as occasional rewards. While he left out the pork loin, he provided the nice thick ham and also genoa salami, which I loved on the sandwiches. I've heard that in Tampa, which also has a large Cuban population, they include the salami on Cuban sandwiches, but I've never seen it come on a sandwich I ordered anywhere in Miami.

    I personally prefer the similar medianoche (midnight) sandwich, on the sweeter yellow bread. Same ingredients, and pressed the same way, but I just like that bread better.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

      Yes here in Tampa Genoa salami is one of the components of the Cuban sandwich or mixo as it was called due to the mix of meats. The salami inclusion came from the Italian immigrants that worked side by side with the Cuban immigrants in Ybor City. There will always be the debate as to where the sandwich originated. I like mine with yellow mustard also.

    2. Cuban bread is a cry for help, but in a nicely built cuban sandwich it is part of something larger. My usual impression of a nice, pressed, cuban sandwich is the sheer weight of it. You could do curls with it and save a trip to the gym. The best way to digest it is a nap in the hammock. Come to think of it, most of my philosophy sprouts from my hammock.

      1. And then you could make it on rye with corned beef, swiss cheese and russian dressing!
        I'm reminded of the recipe reviews where people say the dish was great, all they did was substitute every ingredient with another one.
        Your ideas are interesting, but then it's not a Cuban sandwich.

        26 Replies
        1. re: eimac

          I have to agree. Mojo sour cream? Puerto Rican bread? I think you turned a Cuban sandwich into an Ericshinkle sandwich. Not that it's bad, but it doesn't seem like a Cuban sandwich, which is basically the same everywhere I've had one (L.A., NYC, MIA, even Barcelona) with the exception of Tampa where salami is added. It's Cuban bread, mustard (French's is probably fine), swiss cheese, pickles (which I hate, but must have on Cuban sandwich), ham and roast pork. That's it. No deviations. It's kind of like apple pie is apple pie unless you make it upside down then it's tarte tatin.

          1. re: lax2mia

            I know that experimentation is one of the great pleasures of cooking, but some foods ( particularly ethnic and regional ones) are perfect just as they are and have always been. If you want to change them, fine, but don't try to pass it off as what it originally was. I find that many transplants to South Florida claim to want "authentic" Cuban food and then praise the tarted up stuff that violates everything that makes Cuban food so delicious.

            1. re: eimac

              Well this isn't a posting on the greatest ruben, but for the sake of argurment; Dark rye, or caraway?
              1000 island or russian?
              Havarti or Emmenaller?
              Kraut or no Kraut?
              I love your adamant position on "authenticity", but I just want to clarify a few points. The Items I threw out were to get the ball rolling. I don't claim to be an expert on the subject, nor do I suppose that the elements I mentioned are definitive. They are subjective. Such is the nature of opinion.
              What I am trying to elicit are the specifics of your opinion, hopefully with a bit of descriptive commentary.
              Bagel hounds from NY are adamant that NY water is essential to a perfect bagel.
              Must the Cuban Bread be made with Cuban Water?
              I don't want to turn this into a debate on authenticity. I enjoy hearing your opinion but it lacks specificity. Where do you get your cuban bread? What pickles? What type of ham? What goes into the roast pork? (I have seen places using roast turkey).
              These are types of details I (and others) can explore to refine my (their) perspective on the cuban sandwich.
              Once again, thanks.

              1. re: Ericshinkle

                *I* am a bagel hound from NY, and the water argument holds no, well, water, for either pizza or bagels. That's because I've had terrific pizza and bagels in several cities and counties in NYC/Northern NJ/Outer Boroughs, and water quality is controlled on the municipal level, and varies wildly. If they're all so different, how can the products all be good?

                BUT to steer this back around to Florida-centric, bc I really don't want this topic to get moved, can people name some places where they found a Cuban (or Cubanesque, if there are variations) they enjoyed here?

                1. re: Covert Ops

                  i have to disagree

                  in a product that has 3 or four components, none, strongly flavored, of which water is one the 2 largest it HAS to make a difference. it isn't the whole story, but it isn't irrelevant either

            2. re: lax2mia

              And I, too, must agree with you, Lax2mia.

              I had a Cuban last week here in South Central Florida and it must have been made in the "Tampa" style, with salami (two or three scant slices). However, the roast pork was almost nowhere to be found (one thin slice?). Is this the "typical" "Tampa" style? Does the salami pretty much replace the roast pork (the ham, however, was piled high)? If this is the case, then this makes for a much inferior sandwich. To me, the glory of that sandwich rests largely on the even balance of ham and roast pork.


              1. re: Noice

                Noice -- since this is a Chow board, to keep this topic from being moved to General Discussion, please tell us where you had the subpar sandwich! :-)

                I'm not a ham type of person, so I can't weigh in, but DH loves the Cuban at Havana Cuba in DeLand. They said they get their bread from Orlando -- Bob, can you shed light on who might be a Cuban bread supplier, so O-town hounds can make their own?

                1. re: Covert Ops

                  The guy in Orlando who makes the best Cuban sandwwiches in town -- Senor Castro at Cuban Sandwiches to To --- gets his bread every day driven over from Tampa. He is aware of the salami byproduct, but will not serve it on his sandwiches.

                  Most of the other places use Publix Cuban bread -- yes Publix -- which tells you what I think of their sandwiches. Old Hearth may be making it, I don't know/ Not aware of anyone else, but I'll ask around.


                  1. re: Bob Mervine

                    Bob is that the little place on Lee road?, as i stated earlier the best i've found here are Cubans on the run,and Black bean deli....are they much better than these?

                  2. re: Covert Ops

                    The offending Cuban was had at a new restaurant just south of Sebring on US 27 called Rumayor Restaurant. I recently confirmed with a family member that that restaurant does indeed typically serve their Cubans in that manner.

                    That being said, the Rumayor -- a self-styled Puerto Rican and Cuban restaurant -- is easily one of the best (only?) places for great and cheap chow in Highlands County (yes, off topic, but this is a chow tip that should be passed). The owner ran another restaurant in downtown Sebring for many years (El Rincon Latino) which was fantastic (every bit as good as the Cuban institutions in the larger cities in Florida), and this new, larger incarnation is just as good. Just stay away from the sandwiches.


                  3. re: Noice

                    no there should be pork. I think the salami adds a nice zest complimented by the mustard. What i usually find most wanting in quality is the ham. The boiled stuff doesn't cut it, and sheds too much moisture when pressed.

                    as far as variations, I sometimes like to add onion, but I don't mess with it much. I do enjoy a mojo pork sandwich if the meat is made good. Mayo is superfluous and i avoid it.

                    I much prefer Tampa's dry crusty bread to the soft Miami variety.

                  4. re: lax2mia

                    I couldn't agree more.
                    Buttered Cuban bread. Good ham, thin sliced, but not too much. Roasted pork, Cuban-style (mojo). Salami is optional. Swiss cheese, dill pickles and mustard. I like Gulden's but I guess yellow is more widely used. Then pressed.

                    1. re: Wineman

                      *drool* THAT is the perfect Cuban to me - I love when the bread is just a little greasy. Alone, I don't care for any of the ingredients except the pork, but combined, it's a party in my mouth.

                    2. re: lax2mia

                      Mustard is optional IMO. It seems to be ubiquitous around Tampa, but around Miami and NYC, not so much.

                      1. re: lax2mia

                        We had a grocery store chain in N.M. that sold "Cuban sandwiches" pre made in their deli meat case, these were on hot dog buns, with roast pork, mayo n mustard packets,sweet pickels,and white American cheese.....truly dreadful!, I tried 1, and never even thought about having another one until i moved to Fl,now i am hooked on the ones from ,Cubans on the run,and the Black bean deli!, i do pose this question about "authenticity" though, do you suppose every Cuban sandwich in Cuba is exactally alike ?, or do the differ, like the hamburger in the U.S> ?

                        1. re: jword2001

                          From what I understand the Cuban sandwich is from Tampa and Miami Cubans and probably was not founded in Cuba. The sandwich got it's roots being served in the Ybor City cigar factories. I could be wrong and I am sure someone will point it out if I am lol

                          1. re: rhnault

                            Hmmm so an "authentic" Cuban sandwich isn't even from Cuba?, I really dont care , GOOD FOOD is just that!, thanks for the info!

                            1. re: jword2001

                              There are NO Cuban sandwiches in Cuba. Yes, there are sandwiches on the street but they have absolutely no resemblance to a classic Cuban sandwich except for containing pork. In Havana, the pork is basically grilled, sliced and served on a small soft bun. No pressing, no pickles, nothing but pork on a bun. Good, though. But not what you'd call a Cuban.

                            2. re: rhnault

                              right you are. Cubans were already popularized by the 1920s in Tampa, long before Miami had a significant Cuban population. The earliest claim I've heard is around 1910.

                              The Cuban Mixed or mixto sandwich had already been common in Havana, but there were no set ingredients--- anything on Cuban bread. I read a first-person account form the early 30s in which the writer enjoyed a sandwich of ham, turkey and tomato. It probably wasn't until the 1940s-50s that the Tampa Cuban coalesced into something fixed. Then the Castro exiles came and mixed things up a bit-- softer bread, no salami, etc. And the arguments began again.

                              I've been back to the Museum Cafe in Homasassa, and they serve a very good sandwich. Don Pan does a decent job, but I don't think the individually baked Cuban buns are a good idea. Very disappointed with the Silver Ring, recently back in Ybor City. A lousy, skimpy sandwich. Dona Rossina's Station (now gone) did a good Miami style sandwich. The Columbia is currently revamping all of the ingredients of their sandwich. I have high hopes. Places like Wright's Gourmet House and Obi's garnered many awards over the years. Any one been to either?

                              1. re: andy huse

                                a trip to Wright's is definitely in my foreseeable future but I doubt I will have a Cuban ; )
                                I'm a Fl native and 11 years in Tampa. We bought our own sandwich press a couple years ago and we make our sandwiches at home when we have leftover mojo pork.

                                1. re: andy huse

                                  I was born in Tampa and from my history research this is correct, although there will always be debate from those further south. My family had a grocery store in Ybor City from the early 40s for over 50 years. I spent my fair share of time in Ybor before it became a bar haven. Back when you could walk the streets in the morning and smell coffee roasting and bread baking. The streets were lined with stores all occupied selling everything from furniture to linens. Ybor was full of immigrants. Mostly Cubans, Italians and Jews. I remember the Cuban sandwiches at the Silver Ring and the Tropicana back in the old days. I have read about the return of the Silver Ring and have seen their Cuban sandwiches and have to say they have moved away from the traditional sandwich they use to serve. Too bad indeed. You can get good Cuban sandwiches at many of the little and big Cuban restaurants in the Ybor and the West Tampa area. La Terasita has a good authentic Cuban. When pressed the Swiss cheese and the salami should melt enough so that the flavorful oils permeate the ham and roast pork. I stopped for one a while back. Big and cheap it was delicious with a side of tostones and a cafecito.

                                  1. re: scubadoo97

                                    I wish Ybor could go back to that....

                                    1. re: scubadoo97

                                      Wow, scubadoo, those credentials are pretty good, but I would rather discuss, not to say argue, Cuban Sandwiches than politics any day. So, my experience, from the late 50`s through the 70`s, was that Ybor cubans were not pressed, but were offered either cold or heated. I stood in line many a day at the old Silver Ring and ordered heated cubans, and the guy at the counter would heat the sandwich in something like a big glass-sided toaster oven. The sandwich would stick together and brown a little. I loved those sandwiches! Pressing the sandwich, in my opinion, destroys the unique light texture of Tampa-style cuban bread. It just doesn`t seem right if it doesn`t crumble all over your shirt...I didn`t see a pressed cuban until the 80`s, probably the mid-80`s, when Ybor was going through a "revitalization" phase, and I assumed that pressing was just an idea that made it up from Cuba via Miami. I guess it could be that fashions in Ybor cubans have changed more than once.

                                      I have documentation for the 60`s version sandwich as served by the Silver Ring though. From the 1961 version of the Gasparilla cookbook. I posted this on another thread, but will post again if anyone else is crazy enough to be interested in such a thing.

                                      1. re: lowtone9

                                        Lowtone9, in retrospect I would have to agree that the pressing came later. You are indeed correct. Maybe one day we will meet in Ybor and enjoy a Cuban and remember the good old days.

                                    2. re: andy huse

                                      I lived in the Tampa Bay area for over 35 years, family had businesses in Clearwater, Tampa, St. Pete, Lakeland & Sarasota - so I ate all over! As a child I could smell the tobacco in Ybor before I could see the cigar factories as we drove by.

                                      Wrights is one of the places on my "must gorge" list when I visit, but I have never had their Cuban. Generally, in Pinellas I would get them from either La Teresita, the little convenience store across from the St. Pete/Clearwater airport and place called Rio (IIRC) on 4th St. N. in the strip center with all the Asian businesses.

                                      I stopped going to Ybor in the mid to late '80's once Guavaween reached an unpleasant critical mass. Got too big to be then most of what had made Ybor great was being edged out. Classic case of the fringe creating a hip climate, then more established money sources come in and the rising rent runs the fringe out. There was some great eating there!

                              2. re: eimac

                                I totally agree with you lax2mia 110%!

                                Noice in Tampa the cuban is mustard, pickle, roast pork, ham, salami, swiss cheese on pressed cuban bread. Maybe the place you were at ran out of pork.

                              3. Down in Key West you sometimes get salami on a Cuban sandwich. All of the sandwich shops there, be they Cuban-run or otherwise, call their sandwich a Cuban mix. Also, pretty much all of these places include shredded lettuce. Ordering a medianoche or midnite will get you something closer to the traditional Cuban sandwich found in the rest of Florida, but with a sweeter type of bread. Having grown up in Key West, you can imagine my surprise when I tried the Cuban sandwiches elsewhere.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Nick

                                  The Cuban sandwich we get up here in TN seems to be pork only.
                                  Yours sounds better.
                                  When you say "pressed" is it steamed at the same time as it's pressed or is it just under something heavy on a heated surface?

                                  1. re: shallots

                                    It's pressed on a sandwich press or you can do it with a griddle and cast iron skillet. It's definitely not steamed and if it's pork only it's not a Cuban sandwich.

                                2. In Colombia, Sandwich Cubano is a national chain, and probably the only one we patronize--2-3 times a year. We must have "authentic" because the even better Cuban sandwiches from the little counter in front of La Calesa (I think is the name) in the Miami airport are quite similar to those we get from Sandwich Cubano.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    There are Cuban sandwiches to be found all over Guadalajara--and nearly all of them have ham, pork leg, cheese, and HOT DOGS (sliced lengthwise and grilled). They're prepared on a telera roll and grilled. Good, yes, but hot dogs?