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What is a Cuban Sandwich?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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Many of the world's most popular sandwiches first gained popularity amongst the working classes, and such is the case with the hearty Cuban sandwich. Cuban workers during the early 20th century often purchased hot meat and cheese sandwiches from vendors stationed inside their workplaces. When many of these workers migrated to the United States, especially in the southern Florida region, they brought many of their recipes and food traditions with them, including the original ingredients of their beloved "Cuban sandwich," also known as a cubano.

A traditional Cuban sandwich begins with a special Cuban bread similar to the long French bread loaves. Originally, local bakeries spent the early hours of the morning baking light, crusty loaves of Cuban bread, which would then be delivered to customers by hanging the loaves on an external nail. Cuban bread has a very short shelf life, so most recipients make a Cuban sandwich within a few hours of receiving or purchasing the bread.

The Cuban bread is sliced down the middle like a submarine or hoagie bun, then buttered. Thin slices of pork roast marinated in a mojo sauce is then added to the sandwich, followed by thin slices of ham. In the Tampa, Florida area, where the Americanized version of the Cuban sandwich is believed to have originated, the ham may be replaced with thin slices of salami. Next comes a layer of Swiss cheese, followed by thin slices of dill pickle.

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Traditionally, mustard is the only condiment added to a Cuban sandwich, although it is not unusual to find mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato added later. A Cuban sandwich can be served cold, but generally it is placed in a heated sandwich press until the cheese has melted and the bread has become grilled. Because authentic Cuban bread can be difficult to find, some sandwich shops use Italian panini bread as a viable alternative.

The ingredient which most defines an authentic Cuban sandwich is the marinated pork roast. The mojo marinade gives the meat a distinctive citrus undertone, along with a savory garlic flavor. Much like the deep dish pizzas of Chicago or the Philly cheese steaks of Philadelphia, many Cuban sandwich enthusiasts say the most authentic version of the sandwich is found in the Tampa, Florida region. Although many of the ingredients can be found elsewhere or prepared at home, only certain bakeries in the south Florida area can produce an authentic Cuban bread acceptable enough for the traditional Cuban sandwich.

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Sinbad
Post 7

I love most sandwiches, especially as authentic as possible Cuban sandwich. The mojo sauce is just so unique and delicious. I don't think we have many Cuban restaurants where I live, not even many Cuban-American ones.

I went to visit my Aunt a few years back, and one of the most memorable parts of the visit, besides spending time with my aunt, is stopping in a Cuban restaurant and getting a Cuban sandwich the original way. Just thinking about it is making me hungry and miss southern Florida!

When I say an original Cuban sandwich, I mean with only pork roast marinated for just the right amount of time in mojo sauce, ham, swish cheese, pickles; all of these ingredients sandwiched between light, heavenly Cuban bread, with mustard as the only condiment.

Besides this sandwich tasting terrific, it actually seems pretty healthy, which is a definite added bonus!

chivebasil
Post 6

There is a food truck that always parks close to where I work. They make the most amazing Cuban sandwiches you have ever had.

The crazy thing is that it is not a Cuban themed food truck. They specialize in sandwiches from around the world. They have lots of great sandwiches but I have gotten to the point where I only want to eat the Cuban. I don't look forward to Monday mornings I am already craving a Cuban sandwich.

candyquilt
Post 5

I'm feeling hungry after reading this article! I actually make Cuban sandwiches at home often. My friend who is really into Latin American cooking gave me the pressed Cuban sandwich recipe. It's easy but it's important to have the best ingredients, otherwise it doesn't come out perfect.

What I generally do is buy some of those half baked Italian breads. I pop them in the oven at home so that they are hot and crispy on the outside. If I just have regular Italian bread, then I do use my panini press.

When the bread is ready, I fill the sandwich with cheese, heated ham and Genoa salami that I buy especially for this purpose. When you buy salami for a Cuban sandwich, make sure that the salami is a little fatty. The fat actually rubs off on the other ingredients when it's in a press. And I think that makes a huge difference with the flavor.

SteamLouis
Post 4

I love food that has unique history. My family is British and we eat Cornish pastry a lot in my house. This pastry is really similar to the Cuban sandwich because both were made to be filling and healthy meals that workers could have while on the job.

The Cuban sandwich is made of meat, cheese and bread and the Cornish pastry is made of potatoes, meat and pastry. British miners used to have this as their lunch while they were in the mine. Since they didn't have the option of washing their hands or using utensils, they would hold the hard corner of the pastry, eat it and throw away the corner they held.

I'm sure Cubans had the same kind of thing in mind when they used to eat pressed Cuban sandwiches. It's a very satisfying sandwich, full of protein and easy to hold and munch on.

ddljohn
Post 3

@suntan12-- I've had the original sandwich Cubano as well as the Americanized version, and I personally like both.

Yes, the tomatoes and lettuce do add an American flavor to it, but that's why it's called the American Cuban sandwich. Cubans might not prefer it that way, but I do like some veggies and mayo in my sandwich, so a Cuban with tomatoes, pickles and mayo sound just fine to me!

cafe41
Post 2

@Suntan12 -You know I live in Miami and I can go to any Cuban restaurant and get an authentic Cuban sandwich. One of the best Cuban restaurants here in Miami is Versailles which is located in Little Havana.

This restaurant is a landmark Cuban restaurant that has been around for the last forty years and it is always packed with people. The food is amazing and the Cuban sandwich is the best there is.

I tried to get a Cuban sandwich press and make a Cuban sandwich at home, but it didn’t taste the same. I think that this is one sandwich that you are better off getting at an authentic Cuban restaurant.

There is also a

smaller version of the Cuban sandwich called the “Media Noche” which translates to midnight sandwich which has all of the ingredients that a Cuban sandwich has but it is served on sweeter egg bread and it is also put under a Cuban sandwich press. It is a smaller sandwich that is just as delicious.
suntan12
Post 1

I love Cuban sandwiches. What I love most about the grilled Cuban sandwich is the pork. The pork combined with the Swiss cheese is amazing.

I have gone to Tampa and had an “American Cuban sandwich” and it was not the same. In many restaurants in Tampa, they add lettuce and tomato to a Cuban sandwich which really changes the flavor of the sandwich.

It is not a good combination and makes this Cuban sandwich taste like everything else. A Cuban sandwich is supposed to be served hot and a Cuban sandwich press is supposed to be used so that the sandwich is flattened and the cheese melts.

The lettuce and tomato makes the sandwich cold and the signature ingredient should be pork not salami.

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