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The Cuban Sandwich: What Makes It So Damn Good

People who live in areas without large Cuban populations may never have discovered the Cuban sandwich, but many sandwich aficionados argue that these sandwiches taste better than slapped-together subs, grinders, hoagies and specialty sandwiches like the muffaletta. Combining the attractions of grilling, textured bread and marinating the flavors of stacked meats and cheese, the sandwich makes a strong case.

Bread with mustard

The Cuban sandwich has layers of roast pork, ham, cheese, mustard and pickle between a sliced loaf of Cuban bread. The secrets to success include using crusty but moist Cuban bread and sandwich presses to meld the flavors into signature compact masses. Fresh Cuban breads, which use lard, have crusty exteriors and soft, moist interiors, but French or Italian breads will do as substitutes.

Historical Roots

The Cuban sandwich originated as the preferred lunch choices of workers in sugar mills and cigar factories in Cuba. Cuban entrepreneurs set up shops in the mills and sold sandwiches to workers on their lunch breaks. Immigrants brought Cuban food traditions to large cities in America, and Florida long enjoyed the benefits of Cuban food and cultural traditions when travel was unrestricted during the late 1800s and first half of the 19th century. The cigar industry settled in Tampa, centered around Ybor City, and workers bought along their Cuban traditions, culture and ideas.

Major Florida cities like Miami and Tampa have large Cuban populations, and the Cuban sandwich soon became popular among Americans from other ethnic backgrounds. The sandwich appeared on Miami cafeteria and restaurant menus in the 1960s. Tampa claims bragging rights of popularizing the sandwich because of the large number of immigrant cigar workers who brought Cuban food to the city. In Tampa, sandwich makers often add Genoa salami, and Tampa City Council named the sandwich the “signature sandwich of the city” in April of 2012.

Sandwich Maker Artistry

Restaurants often set up visible stations where customers can watch culinary artists make their sandwiches. Roast pork legs and hams turn on rotisseries, and cooks shave thin slices similar to the way Greek cooks slice lamb legs for gyros. Sandwich makers use the flats of their serrated blades to gather and arrange meat slices on the bread.

Traditional ingredients include Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. Purists never add lettuce, tomatoes, onions and peppers.The Cuban sandwich is also called mixto or cubano, and Cubans use a smaller bread made of sweet egg dough to compose midnight snacks called medianoche. Restaurants uses special sandwich presses called planchas to grill sandwiches on both sides, and they add enough weight to encourage the flavors to marry.

Some Aficionados Say that Only Miami and Tampa Make Cuban Bread

The Cuban sandwich depends on bread with real texture, and homogenous soft hoagie rolls will not do. Crusty French baguettes and Italian loaves make suitable substitutes. Cuban bread gets slightly underbaked, so crusts do not brown too much when grilled. The bread has splits down the middle of the crusts and tender interiors that are soft and not chewy. Mexican bolillo bread makes a great substitute.

English: A line of Cuban sandwiches ready for ...Americans love their grilled sandwiches, and grilled cheese sandwiches enjoy great popularity in most restaurants. Philadelphia residents love their cheese-steak sandwiches, but Cuban Americans bring something terrifically tasty. The Cuban sandwich includes all of the best features of other sandwiches brought together in an original mix, so sandwich lovers should try them to discover unique approaches to sandwich artistry.

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