Sacrilegious Lunch? The Cuban Sandwich Debate

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The city council of Tampa, Fla., recently designated the "Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich" and specifying its ingredients. From member station WUSF in Tampa, Bobbie O'Brien reports that claim has inspired ridicule from Miami's Cuban community.


Philadelphia has its cheesesteak sandwich, Buffalo its wing. Now, Tampa has officially claimed the Cuban sandwich. The Tampa, Florida city council last month passed a resolution designating the Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich and specifying its ingredients. From member station WUSF in Tampa, Bobby O'Brien found that claim has drawn ridicule from Miami's Cuban community.


BOBBY O'BRIEN, BYLINE: An authentic Tampa Cuban starts with the bread.

ANDREW HUSE: Tampa bread - you know that if you've eaten a piece of it because crumbs are everywhere.

O'BRIEN: That's Andrew Huse. He wrote the history of the Colombia, Florida's century-old Spanish-Cuban restaurant.

HUSE: If you go to Miami, you're not going to find that bread. You're going to find a squishy bread.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

O'BRIEN: David Audet collected the history of Tampa's sandwich at the behest of city council. Ricotto's Sandwich Shop, established in 1948, is one of his favorite lunch spots.

DAVID AUDET: This is how they build them. They take the Cuban bread, cut the bread in half, then you do what's called sweet ham. You put the pan here because it has the most moisture. It's going to soak into the bread. Then this is the mojo pork, the roast pork - it's shredded, not sliced - so, that means this has been roasted.

O'BRIEN: Add dry Swiss cheese, tangy mustard, crisp dill pickles and Genoa salami.

MAYOR TOMAS REGALADO: If my abuela would have seen salami in the Cuban sandwich, she would do the sign of the cross and say that's a sacrilege.

O'BRIEN: Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado dismisses Tampa's version of the Cuban.

REGALADO: Salami belongs in pizza and, you know, Italian restaurants.

O'BRIEN: Tampa's Latin community dates back to the 1880s. The King Corona cafe is in a building nearly 100 years old in Ybor City, Tampa's Latin quarter. Cafe owner Don Barco sells fine cigars, Cuban coffee and Cuban sandwiches. He says a good Cuban is like a handmade cigar.

DON BARCO: You have this different blending of tobaccos, and it's the same thing with the Cuban sandwich. All those different ingredients marry and that's what gives you the flavor of the Ybor City Cuban sandwich.

O'BRIEN: Tampa's already staked a historic claim to the Cuban sandwich. Now, it's aiming for the culinary title. A Cuban sandwich contest is scheduled later this month in Ybor City. Miami sandwich makers are invited. For NPR News, I'm Bobby O'Brien in Tampa.


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