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Cuban Is Ours, Any Way You Try To Slice It

Published: Oct 24, 2007

Well, they're still at it, and you can only wonder how many thousands of minds will be forever corrupted.

You can point fingers in a lot of directions, although most of them should be aimed south in the direction of Miami, where things are just not going well.

But then, Miami is just taking advantage of technology and hoping nobody will step up on behalf of Ybor City. That's why I put the blame on the Internet and those wireless wizards who are more interested in making something easy instead of accurate.

As you can imagine, I'm talking about something serious. I'm talking about the Cuban sandwich.

Ahh, the Cuban sandwich, the harmonic convergence of meats, cheese and pickles within the crusty confines of Cuban bread.

It is Ybor's gift to the world. On a cool day, and there are cool days to come, a hot, pressed Cuban and a cup of Spanish bean soup can rejuvenate the soul and remind you of the more important things in life.

Trouble In Cyberspace

But, oh, there is trouble out there on the Internet, that cavernous space where we now turn to learn things instantly because it is so easy. Unfortunately the Internet also is littered with misinformation and those who, for whatever reason, want you to believe things that just are not so.

It was reader Steve Tamargo, who probably deserves the Ybor Legion of Merit, or at least a free devil crab, who alerted me to what was happening on the Internet encyclopedia, where Miami was getting credit as the birthplace of the Cuban sandwich. To pile it on, the story calls the Ybor sandwich a "variation" of the Cuban.

OK, for a quick history lesson, it was back at the beginning of the 20th century that cigar workers in Ybor and West Tampa would bring in mixto sandwiches, like the ones they had had back in their native Cuba.

These simple sandwiches would undergo changes as immigrants from different countries came to Ybor. That's the harmonic convergence part. It took all of those cultures to refine the sandwich to the perfect Cuban.

The Spanish put in the fine ham; the Sicilians added the pungent salami. From Cuba came the pork marinated in that rich sour-orange mojo. Layer that with Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard and put it all between slices of freshly baked Cuban bread and life is good again.

The Staff Of Life

The bread, by the way, is critical. With revolution in Cuba and tough times in America, the Ybor bakers stretched the loaves and placed a palmetto frond in the middle. People would put a nail by their door, and when the delivery boys would bring the fresh bread by in the mornings, all they had to do was slam it against the wall to hang it.

Today, the true Cuban is an endangered species. I've been to Ybor and West Tampa and had people try to pass off a Cuban made with French bread. Some merchants, thinking more is better, pile sandwiches so high that they lose character.

If you think you've found the perfect Cuban sandwich, drop me a line. Maybe I'll let you know where I think the best ones can be found.

Just don't believe everything you see on the Internet, and, by all means, do not let anyone tell you the Cuban came from Miami. It is ours.

Steve Otto can be reached at (813) 259-7809.

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