On the heels of a scrappy rivalry college football week, I feel it’s only appropriate to discuss one of, perhaps, the most talked about rivalries of the last 140 years. The east coast – west coast rivalry between Tampa and Miami, Florida as they battle for the best Cuban sandwich in the Sunshine State!
Okay, okay, maybe the Cuban is not the most important rivalry of the past century but it’s a tasty one all the same. Growing up a young impressionable teenager in Florida I had my share of these mouth-watering pressed delights. Some of my extended family grew up in Tampa making homemade Cuban and Spanish food like Piccadillo, yucca, plantanos, lechon and of course Cuban sandwiches. In fact the Cuban sandwich is so popular in the state, they can often be found at 7-Eleven convenient stores and even pressed to order. Now that’s some gas station food I can get behind!
How did this ham and cheese delight become so popular? It’s thought to have been a staple in the lunch boxes of cigar factory and sugar mill workers of the big cities in Cuba like Havana. When cigar factories began moving into Key West and Tampa, so did the workers. When cigar manufacturer Vincent Martinez-Ybor opened shop in Tampa in the mid 1880’s Cuban and Italian immigrants arrived to work in the factory. Here in Ybor City is where you start to see the Cuban sandwich blossom as workers needed to be fed. The Tampa version often includes salami, probably as a result of Italian immigrants being in the area as well. With the rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba in the late 1950’s, a large influx of Cubans began to arrive in Miami and by the 1960’s the Cuban was seen throughout cafeterias citywide. The east coast -west coast rivalry begins!
So what exactly is a Cuban sandwich? There are different interpretations but the basics are paramount. Start with good Cuban bread. Smear the sides with yellow mustard, add pork, ham and Swiss cheese alongside dill pickles and press! Naturally, there are variations, each delicious in its own right. Some versions add mayo, lettuce and tomato for instance, however traditionalist may have something to say about that!
Tampa and Miami you may have the history but I’m telling you Atlanta is here to give you a strong contender. In walks, El Super Pan! This sandwich is my personal favorite Cuban i’ve ever in my life eaten! I understand this may bring some fighting words, but if you haven’t had it, go immediately and get yourself what you deserve, then thank me later. They’re large, so go hungry and don’t forget a side of red beans and rice with spicy chili (ask), if you’re so inclined. Warning: may cause you to shout expletives. I’m pretty sure I said “F*#k that’s delicious” about five times.
Let me know what you think Squeakers! Think Atlanta could take the crown?