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Jul 8, 2008 09:58 AM

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.

    10 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)

                  1. re: hill food

                    I'm following the Cuban thread with interest, but you may want to reconsider your comment about refrigerators in WWII (yes, I was around then). We lived in a medium-sized city in the '30's, and everyone I knew had "fridges". In 1940 we moved to a small village, and while we had an icebox until the end of the war, most of our neighbors had refrigerators. So there was no problem storing either mayo or eggs (and we had those from our own chickens and ducks).

                    The mayo during WWII was nasty stuff that looked like lard until you colored it (this was the kids job), evidently because of dairy lobby politics.

                    1. re: DonShirer

                      heh I poke around old houses a lot. many in the country have the ventilated wall mount cabinet for vegetables (out in the rural US hills they didn't get full electricity until the 1950's despite nearby hydroelectric dams - and frankly the haphazard wiring scares the pants off me)

        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.

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