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Help me order a Cuban sandwich

I've been hearing quite a bit about the specialness of Cuban sandwiches lately, and tomorrow I'm about to have my first one. Is there a particular version that's the classic or the archetype? Reminds me of my first attempts to try bahn mi, when I was trying in vain to get input on the quintessential version.

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  1. Cubans around these parts (midwest) are pork, ham, cheese (swiss?), mustard, mayo and pickles. The smaller cuban sandwich is a media noche, served on egg bread. The regular Cuban is on Cuban bread, which is unbelievable good.

    8 Replies
      1. re: charlesbois

        There should never, ever, ever never be mayo on a Cuban sandwich.

        1. re: Bad Sneakers

          Yeah, no mayo... Only mustard. The mayo is in the bread itself if it is indeed REAL Cuban bread.

          1. re: AlyKen

            Actually, not even In the bread -- cuban bread is also called "pan de agua" -- for a reason - -it's primarily flour and water... with a little shortening -- historically lard, and more recently vegetable shortening.

            1. re: karmalaw

              My grandmother always made it with mayo instead.

              1. re: AlyKen

                Mayo was a cheap alternative used as a shortening or oil replacement in a time when lard was either not available or out of fashion.

                1. re: TampaAurora

                  TA, mayo was abandoned by many around WWII for "oleo" because eggs were rationed and unless you were on a farm even then a refrigerator was unheard of, plus many people were skittish about the stability of the stuff. even in the 70's my mom wouldn't have it around.

                  oil based "salad dressing" was much more shelf stable and less botulistic. but not as tasty (I did gain a liking for it)

        2. A cuban has ham, swiss, roast pork, pickle and mustard on Cuban bread. I remember a few years ago ordering one without the pickle and mustard (I HATE pickles and only like mustard if it's a certain type). The guy said, "Lady, you don't have a Cuban anymore. That's a ham and cheese sandwich." Honestly, it's just not my thing (and I've had it in many places thinking I just didn't have the right one, including Miami). But DH and many others I know absolutely love it.

          I haven't seen variations at restaurants like you do with banh mi. Some places may have different versions of it. I actually had an excellent "Americanized" one at a hotel restaurant in West Florida made of challah bread, the most tender roast pork, ham and Swiss and a really spicy mayo. And the pickles and mustard automatically came on the side.

          12 Replies
          1. re: Miss Needle

            At some level all Cuban sandwiches are Americanized... when I visited Cuba (before I become a U.S. Citizen... just clearing that up... don't want anybody accussing me with the State Department!)... trying to find Cubanos at various neighborhood Paladares... the reaction ranged from disdain to laughter & pity. The take I heard is that Cubanos were a Casino / Whorehouse mainstay for American tourists... Cubans prefer a Roasted Lechon Media Noche with a very garlicky & lemony sauce over the whole mustard, mayo, pickle thaaang.

            Perhaps my sympathies for Castro's Cuba bias me a little.. but I have to say the Media Noches I had there were vastly tastier, had this incredible realness & richness & satisfying character to them as oppossed to the more McD / Disney teeny bopper Cubanos we get in the States.

            I just can't eat Cubanos any more.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              Interesting story. I've never had a media noche, but my "Americanized" Cuban does sound closer to a media noche than a Cuban. It was probably a combo of both. It was indeed a lot tastier than the other Cubans I've got in the past. In fact, I liked it so much that I ordered it twice during that weekend stay.

              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                After living in Bolivia, I always felt the ingredients in Cuban sandwiches were suspect. What you describe is much more like I would eat at roadside in Boliva.
                Viva Che!

                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  I've never heard the whorehouse connection to the Cubano, but I did hear from a few sources that they originated with the Cuban immigrants in Ybor City in Tampa. These same workers would bring "mixto" sandwiches back in Cuba and when they came to the US, the sandwich evolved from close contact with Italians and others. So I guess the sandwich is already American on some level.

                  1. re: HungryRubia

                    The Tampa connection makes a lot of sense... I can already imagine Fred Myrtle showing up to watch a vedette show in Havana asking for a Cuban sandwich... turning down a Media Noche saying a want a REAL Cuban sandwich with Swiss Cheese, Pickles & Mustard... you know like the REAL Cubans make in Tampa!

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      In Tampa, cuban sandwiches reign supreme - but I don't eat pork so I have yet to try them. When my hubby and I went to Miami, we ended up at Frita del Rey and deeply involved in a discussion of Tampa/Miami/Cuba food ways. Suffice to say, when we brought up the "cuban sandwich" we were given disdainful looks from a good part of the counter and told about the righteous Media Noche. I think the only reason we weren't given the *eye* from the rest of the counter was the language barrier as my Spanish lessons from high school and cuban friends hadn't resurfaced yet.

                      1. re: TampaAurora

                        Too funny... I am surprised the Miami Cubans were also self-righteous about it... the Cubans I have met in California are very resentful of being resented by Cubans (as it tends to destroy the fantasy they have created about the Cuba-Cubans desperately wanting to leave the island)... alas... California-Cubans wholeheartedly embrace the Cuban sandwich and Cuban-Americanisms over Cuba-Cubanisms.

                  2. re: Eat_Nopal

                    I suspect that atmosphere has a huge affect on how we taste and experience food. Although, I'm sure that your media noche was very different that what we can find here in the states.

                    I stayed w/ a friend at her Cuban in-law's condo in South Beach and they had a small grocer in the bldg. The folks running the place did not speak english (very few in the bldg did) and made amazing media noches. This was not a " McD / Disney teeny bopper" sandwich. I can tell you that I've had several since then and none compare. But I'm sure ones like that are few and far between here in the states b/c you can now find a "cubano" sandwich on many chain restaurant's menus.

                    1. re: lynnlato

                      Yeah... I think you follow what I mean by McD / Disney... many Cubanos have such thin, flavorless, unremarkable slices of meats... loaded on run of the mill condiments... that they remind of the balance achieved in a McD cheeseburger. What I tasted in Cuba was just so much more grown up... with more pungent flavors, full pork flavor, home made bread etc., Incidentally, it seems to me that there is a very different soul imparted on food by Cuban-Americans than you find imparted by Cubans. When think I really enjoyed in Cuba was the cooking style of the Mulatos / Afro-Cubans... they have a different way of seasoning & cooking that we don't get much of in Cuban restaurants in the States... in addition, much of the urban farming being done in Cuba at the time seemed to be done by the Afro-Cuban population who had migrated from Cienfuegos, Camaguey & the rural areas on the Western side of the island... and they cultivated produce that the Creole population didn't seem to cook with... okra, manioc, malanga, yams, collards and many styles of bananas cooked in very different ways.

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        True. In South Florida, the Cubans who came over in the Mariel boatlift were the middle class "bourgeois" so their style of cooking may be very different.

                  3. re: Miss Needle

                    If you order one in Tampa it will include ham, roast pork, Genoa salami and Swiss cheese. Mustard as the condiment and dill pickles on Cuban bread and then pressed. The salami dates to the origin of the sandwich in Tampa when the Cubans and Italians worked side by side in the cigar factories

                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      Yep - thats my cubano!

                      IIRC La Teresita sometimes has a media noche.

                  4. I've never seen any option. You just order a Cuban sandwich :)

                    1. "It's got two kinds of pig, ham and roast pork,
                      A slice of white cheese as long as your fork.
                      Put in a pickle, and if you're ever in New York,
                      Say "El Cubano" -- that's a Cuban sandwich."- lyrics by Tom Russell

                      There's really not much else to it in terms of what's on it- the differences between versions seem to center around the amount and quality of the ingredients. Also, it is usually a pressed and toasted sandwich. They're good, and they deffinitely grow on you.

                      1. A cuban is a cuban. Leave it as is, take nothing out, add nothing.
                        I would go to Cafe Habana for one (if you're in NYC).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: kcijones001

                          Cafe Habana is okay but Margon makes a vastly superior Cubano.

                        2. It's not a cuban sandwich without the mojo sauce, a garlic and citrus, cumin flavored sauce usually mixed with the mayo, typically it has thinly sliced roast pork , ham, and turkey cold cuts are common as well, a tasty cheese slice like swiss, pickles, onions, and pickled jalapenos or other peppers. The sandwhich is generally pressed on the griddle with a heavy weight while griddling it, the bread having been buttered or otherwise oiled. Serve with additional mojo/mayo on the side. Your breath won't recover for a while. Enjoy, one of life's little pleasures.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: dijon

                            This is my South Florida Cuban with the sauce and press. (Also posted recently on toast made that way with guava jelly. Without the press and all, it's not a Cuban to me. Don't recall mayo or not.)

                          2. I'll help you eat it! Insist on the REAL roasted meat- not the shaved cheap cold cut style "roasted pork". Kaaaa!!
                            I've only had a few of them since moving to FL and I really enjoyed the one at Mr Cubano. Next time we are in Tampa we are going to the bakery that makes the cuban bread used all over. (I wanna watch!!)

                            1. They're the nicest thing about flying through Miami - you can get one of those instead of the usual airport crap.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: hill food

                                Holy God, that's the greatest airport restaurant I've ever been to. Talk about a bright spot in an otherwise craptastic place.

                                Having grown up in Tampa, the traditional Cuban was meat, Swiss and mustard and hot pressed. However, I've come across a number of places, including the Cuban owned and operated La Teresita, that offered the sandwich with things like lettuce and tomatoes. Maybe that's because so many gringos wanted the extra fixings, but it is worth noting that such things might be offered. So if asked when ordering, make sure the server knows to keep the salad on the side.

                                1. re: FlaHopper

                                  Anbd shots of Cuban coffee too; Buzzzzzzzz!

                              2. Take it from a South Florida native who frequents Little Havana. First, always Swiss cheese and never, never mayo. Good ham (not the boiled crap), pulled roast pork (highly seasoned), Swiss cheese, pickle chips and yellow mustard on Cuban bread that has been pressed in a Panini press. That's a Cuban sandwich. A media noche is the same ingredients on an egg bread which is smaller in size. Perfect for eating at midnight ergo media noche.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Alfred G

                                  Tampa places often put mayo on, so I think it depends on the region. I personally hate mayo and would prefer we didn't have it, but what can you do? At lots of places they are ready to be pressed by the time you get there and you're stuck with the mayo. Sigh.

                                  1. re: Alfred G

                                    "A media noche is the same ingredients on an egg bread which is smaller in size."

                                    Not in Cuba it isn't.

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      Can't wait to order a full size Media Noche the next time I'm in Cuba.

                                  2. You order it thusly: "One cuban sandwich, please".

                                    There are no accepted variations within an establishment (at least not in a true-blue cuban cafe -- of which I am surrounded -- I live in Little Havana) -- BUT, there are other sandwiches -- the medianoche being the one (it means midnight) that I prefer.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: karmalaw

                                      I'm a S Florida native and lived near FIU in Miami for a time. I agree that you are looked at very strangely if you try to deviate from what is always put on the sandwich. Alfred G got it right - at least for Miami. I'm quite certain that the cubanos we get in Miami are the Miami version. There's also a Tampa version apparently and probably a true Havana version which are all different. Ethnic foods that are made in the US often take on the aspects of the place where they're made.

                                    2. The Colombian Sandwich Cubano chain (based here in Cali) offers several versions, of which the lamb is the best by far.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        Adding lamb to the sandwich means it's no longer a Cuban. It's a pressed lamb sandwich. I've seen other restaurants do this too (mostly in the D.C. area). They stick some meat and condiments on a sandwich and call it a Cuban, even if it's not pressed. A Cuban sandwich is a Cuban sandwich because of its ingredients. Change the ingredients and it's no longer a Cuban.

                                        1. re: FlaHopper

                                          No doubt. But here in Colombia, sandwich cubanos come from Sandwich Cubano--hopefully no thinks of them as being Cuban.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            Similiarly in Mexico there are Tortas Cubanas... where the Cubana / Cubano really means kitchen sink or the works.... because they just mount on every meat they sell... roasted pork leg, a milanesa, some Al Pastor, a split frankfurther, a slice of pineapple... you name it. Its just a name... not trying to be a Sandwich Cubano.

                                      2. It looks like the term "Cuban Sandwich" has evolved to mean different things in different areas - rather like the hoagie/sub/grinder/wedge threads.

                                        In some areas the concept is very specific - others have a much wider interpretation.

                                        Probably best to inquire at the venue as to what they consider their quintessential Cuban and why. Then take it from there!

                                        FWIW my personal standard remains the Tampa Bay version just as my standard for Greek salad remains the version which originated in Tarpon Springs...
                                        But good is good, so I will happily explore well made dishes that range outside my benchmarks!

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: meatn3

                                          See, and having grown up in Tampa, I guard the concept of the Cuban jealously. Without the Cuban, our only culinary contributions to the world are Hooters and Outback. So I'm not about to give up the Cuban. Besides, just like you can't call a sub a muffaletta just because you stick some Italian meats on bread, you can't call any old sandwich a Cuban, especially if it doesn't have pork or cheese on it.

                                          1. re: FlaHopper

                                            I think quite a few chains originate in Tampa what with the huge retiree population. That's not really anything to brag about, though. Sigh. I was craving a Cuban when I was in London and the Cuban place a few blocks away charged a good $15 and put it on ciabatta bread. Needless to say I did not even bother to try it. I am also happy that at least one terminal in the Tampa airport has a place that serves Cuban sandwiches instead of the ubiquitous tex-mex restaurant that seems to be a requirement.

                                            1. re: FlaHopper

                                              I'm with ya FlaHopper. Keep the Hooters and Outbacks. Give me a good Tampa Cuban sandwich.

                                          2. Honestly I'm utterly baffled reading many of the replies in this thread.

                                            Mayo?

                                            Peppers? PEPPERS?!? Ay dios mio.

                                            You've got something there, but a Cuban it ain't, my friend. And as far as having some flexibility in sandwiches, sure that's fine, but this is all sounding like calling something a Reuben then making it with roast beef and ranch dressing.

                                            1. Love the sandwich. I like extra pickles.

                                              One item of for me is that I never found the cuban bread that interesting. Frankly I always thought it was wonder bread shaped into a sub roll. But once you add the meat and fixen and toast to a crunchy melty sandwich, something wonderful happens. It is an amazing sandwich.

                                              Do a test. Get a cuban without getting it toasted or just try eating the bread and tell me it doesn't remind you of wonder bread.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Soup

                                                I eat them a lot non-toasted and the bread is fine. I loathe wonder bread or any of those soft-loaf breads, but absolutely love Cuban bread.

                                                1. re: Soup

                                                  Having lived outside of Tampa for the last 10 years, I can tell you there is nothing I miss more than real Cuban bread. We have a few things where I live which pretend to be Cuban bread, but the real thing is worth its weight in gold (and tough to find outside Florida). I frequently bring it back with me on the plane from FL. If you want to really know the difference between Cuban bread and Wonder, try making Cuban bread. The interior texture should be infinitely softer and finer than Wonder bread (and that's really saying something). It's not going to meet South Beach Diet requirements, but it's awfully tasty.

                                                2. Thanks a LOT Lady Grey. This post made me buy 8 lbs of pork, which has been marinating since Saturday afternoon in a garlic/citrus/happy spice application. The top dog at work went to Tampa and someone "happened" to give him directions from the location he was going to La Segunda Bakery... And apparently at some point I (err... SOMEONE!!) called them "Cuban Rolls" (though I do not recall saying that) so they laughed at him before selling him the 4 ft loaves of Cuban bread with the palmetto leaves down the center. (sigh)
                                                  Today I roast the pork, shred it up and somehow tomorrow I will assemble, press (still figuring that part out) and serve. On a busy Monday. Between conference calls and newsletter publications. yay! Thanks Lady...thanks a lot...

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                                    My greatest sympathy's. Please post address and we will help rid you of this heavy burden...

                                                    ;-D

                                                    1. re: meatn3

                                                      That was FUN! I should have taken pictures. The group was happy and I let my inner-Tampa-Cubanista (which I didn't know I had) out to play.
                                                      Did you ever get your sandwich Lady Grey? What did you think?

                                                  2. Are we in agreement? The Cuban Sandwich is not from Cuba, and Miami has nothing to do with it aside from stealing and screwing it up. It`s a cuban/spanish/italian fusion that happened naturally in Ybor, and of course the best version is the one I grew up with in the 50s, 60s and 70s, which is, btw, not pressed but toasted. Pressing destroys the eunique Tampa texture, and you might as well be chewing on some Miami version..

                                                    All opinion, less than .02 probably. But this is interesting. From the 1961 edition of the Gasparilla Cookbook, a recipe from the Silver Ring Cafe :

                                                    Cuban bread, butter, baked han, barbecued or roast pork, swiss cheese italian salami, dill pickle. Spread mustard on one side, butter on the other. Flavor is improved by warming in the oeven.

                                                    1. how to order a cuban sandwich: "i'll have a regular/special, with everything, please; or, torta cubano especial, por favor."

                                                      if there is beef of any variety on it, you are in the wrong place, pay, eat, and search on.