The Cuban Sandwich Crisis: Tampa V. Miami For The Win

Apr 21, 2012
Originally published on April 23, 2012 9:13 am

Call it the Cuban Sandwich Crisis. Two cities, Tampa and Miami, are locked in a battle to claim the Cuban sandwich as its own. It's a battle for hearts, minds and bellies. And you get to weigh in. Read on!

For the uninitiated, a Cuban sandwich is shredded pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and dill pickles – served either cold or hot-pressed on Cuban bread. Think of it as the ham-and-cheese for the guayabera-wearing set.

Tampa's version includes salami, and it might have a swipe of mayo, depending on who's making it. Each city uses differently-shaped bread. Those are about the only substantive differences.

Now, most food historians agree the sandwich was invented in Tampa's Ybor City, but that's not the end of our story.

On Thursday, the Tampa City Council officially renamed the Cuban sandwich the "Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich."

Thus, the gauntlet was thrown.

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado had this reaction: "Oh. Wow. Tampa certainly has a tradition, but salami is for pizza."

So our Florida newsrooms — WLRN in Miami and WUSF in Tampa — have decided to settle this debate, with your help. We are engaged in an air war and a cyberbattle to determine, "¿Quien es mas macho?"

We argue our respective cases here, in 300 words or less.

So, who has the better claim? Read on, then vote for yourself.

Tampa's Case

By Scott Finn, member station WUSF

Miami is trying to steal the sandwich from Tampa. And yes, after the Cuban revolution, Miami became the undisputed capital of Cuban America.

Cubans in Tampa have a different history. They came to Tampa a century ago to make cigars.

They brought along their bread – with its crispy crust that breaks into a million crumbs, and its sweet, airy middle.

(It's so good, La Segunda Bakery in Tampa says they ship thousands of loaves to Miami every day – including to Miami-Dade County Schools.)

But in Tampa, Cubans quickly mixed with others – like Italians. Their Genoa salami is an ingredient that's missing in the Miami version of the sandwich. Miami's mayor might say, oddly, that salami belongs on pizza – but its salty greasiness is the perfect foil for mustard, pickle and Swiss cheese.

Tampa's Cubans married those Italians, Spaniards and others and formed a pan-Latin community – and a pan-Latin sandwich.

One more thing: Greater Miami is also home to Oneal Ron Morris, the unlicensed "doctor" arrested after allegedly injecting caulk and fix-a-flat tire sealant into the rear ends of her patients.

What, you might ask, would drive people to a quack like Morris? Walk around South Beach in Miami, and you'll feel so paranoid about your body you might be tempted to do radical things.

But when I go to the beaches around Tampa, I walk away feeling pretty good. We're a let-it-all-hang-out sort of place – think "Margaritaville," not "Miami Vice."

Just like the Cuban Sandwich. It's not fancy, or beautiful. It grew out of the need for cigar workers in Tampa to have an affordable lunch.

Miami can keep the haute cuisine and the plastic surgery. Give me white-sand beaches, a hot pressed Cuban sandwich, and an ice cold beer – in other words, Tampa!

Miami's Case

by Dan Grech, WLRN Miami Herald News

I walked into El Pub Restaurante in Little Havana and was immediately greeted in Spanish by a hyperkinetic Cuban woman. The smell of locally baked Cuban bread was thick in the air.

She ushered me into a seat at the counter and slapped down a paper placemat with an illustrated map of Florida. Orlando had a drawing of the Magic Kingdom. Cape Canaveral had the Spaceship Endeavor. Miami had a rooster, two dominos and a smiling man in an historic guayabera shirt. I forget what Tampa had.

My waitress put a sweating glass of ice-cold water on my placemat and took my order.

"Un sandwich cubano, por favor," I said. "Y un café con leche."

"Ah, qué bien hablas español," she cooed.

"Y una croqueta de jamón," I said.

She gasped in joy.

A man behind a Plexiglass divider crafted my sandwich. He wielded a two-foot long serrated knife, long enough to cut down a tree.

He split a loaf of Cuban bread, smeared a pat of room-temperature butter, wiped the knife against his white apron, carved from a slab of dripping roast pork, wiped his knife again, added slices of sweet ham and queso suizo, wiped, smeared yellow mustard, wiped, then expertly flipped a single pickle slice into the air. It arced like a LeBron James three pointer and landed—swish—onto the open face of my Historic Miami Cuban Sandwich.

I didn't need to tell him to hold the salami.

He put the bulging sandwich into a hot press and put his full body weight into its compression. Thirty seconds later my steaming sandwich emerged. It was meat-lovers heaven in a flaky crunchy shell. He cut the sandwich diagonally and slid it toward me.

I've never been to Cuba, but I know what it tastes like. (For more on the Miami contingent, check out the newly created Facebook page.)

Now, help us decide. Vote for your favorite, then we'll follow up here and on the radio with the results.

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