I came across a post on Zagat's website yesterday titled "50 State, 50 Sandwiches" and it sparked some indignation. The Florida sandwich, as declared by Zagat, is the "Cuban," which it describes as "filled with Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard and sometimes salami (depending on who you ask)." I got on the horn with several Cubans from the ages of 60- to 80-plus, and my doubts were confirmed -- a true Cuban sandwich should never contain salami.
According to the City of Tampa, it, and not Miami, is the birthplace of the Cuban sandwich. It even went so far as to "officially rename" the sandwich, the "Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich." Considering the fact that in Tampa the sandwich's ingredients include salami and mayonnaise, Tampa can keep the name. That ain't no Cuban sandwich.
A Cuban sandwich has five basic ingredients nestled between two slices of Cuban bread: ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, mustard, and pickle. Of course, just like a Whopper, you can have it your way -- no pickles, add mayo, and so forth, but in its purest form, a Cuban sandwich follows the recipe above.
While it's true that Cubans were settling in Tampa hundreds of years before they settled in Miami, it is also true that unlike Miami Cubans who basically transformed the Magic City into the new capitol of Cuba, the Cubans in Tampa assimilated, meshing with the Italians and Spaniards in the area. Guess who suggested adding salami?
There is no place on this earth more Cuban than the city of Miami. I know - you may argue that the island of Cuba, perhaps, may hold the rights to that title, but you'd be wrong. When I say "Cuban," I mean old school Cuban, exile Cuban -- the Cubans who have the freedom to actually buy a Cuban sandwich. The same Cubans who helped shape this city into the internationally recognized metropolis it is today.
Tampa should call its sandwich the "mixto" as it was originally called, because that is what it is -- a mix of cultural appetites resting between two slices of bread -- and stop trying to steal the title of "birthplace of the Cuban sandwich" from Miami, where it belongs.
But Tampa won't give up, even going so far as to say Miamians are scared of competing Cubanos. When only one Miami-area restaurant signed up for a Cuban sandwich-making contest at last year's Cuban Sandwich Festival in Tampa, Victor Padilla, festival co-founder, stated "I guess the rest chickened out." No, Mr. Padilla. There's just no reason to leave Miami to visit Tampa.
The controversy about the Cuban sandwich's birthplace became extremely heated last year, with politicians like Tomas Regalado and National Public Radio (NPR) throwing their two cents in. In a survey conducted on the NPR website, Tampa won 57 percent to 43 percent, but all that proves is that Tampa residents have nothing better to do than troll the internet.
There is evidence that the sandwich started being served in Tampa and Miami in the same year, 1947, so maybe both cities began serving Cubanos at the same time. If that is indeed the case, I put forth that our sandwich is more Cuban than Tampa's version, and therefore deserves the title.
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Of course, there are several mentions of the sandwich being served in Key West before either Miami or Tampa were serving their versions. Maybe it contained conch instead of salami.
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