This sandwich has been a Cuban tradition since the early 1500's. The spread of it's tradition outside of Cuba actually begins with cigars.
With Cuba being only 90 miles from Key West, Florida many Cubans moved to Key West in the late 1800s to avoid Spanish rule. The beginning of a significant Cuban influence in Key West began in this time as numerous cigar manufacturers set up shop there. One of the larger cigar factories to come to Key West and eventually find its way to Tampa was owned byVincente Martinez Ybor. Ybor moved to Tampa after his Keys factory was destroyed by a fire. This was the beginning of the incredible Ybor City in Tampa. It was also the end of the cigar industry in Key West, but integral in spreading the great food, drink (see The Mojito) and culture of Cuba. Ybor became the "Cigar Capital of the World" as depression in Cuba forced thousands to leave and come to Florida, especially Ybor as the cigar factory was large enough to employ the Cuban immigrants. The Cuban sandwiches were very popular with the immigrants and soon became something the rest of us in the states would learn of, enjoy, and find to be means to escape to the tropics.This influence and incredible, tropical culture is felt in the Keys and throughout the rest of Florida even today.
As a tribute to just how great this sandwich and it's heritage is, the oldest Cuban sandwich shop in Tampa is still in business today - The Silver Ring Cafe, since 1947. It started as a fisherman's bar in 1929.Today, the Cuban sandwich is extremely popular in the areas of Tampa Bay and South Florida where many descendants of Cuban immigrants still remain (and of course a few native Floridans and slew of others who have dared to move away from America's rat race to a place that is a little more laid back than the rest).
Many restaurants in these cities offer Cubans. The best places to buy them are from smaller Cuban-run restaurants and sandwich shops throughout the Tampa Bay area, or on the street corner-snack bars (loncherias) in South Florida.
For many, one taste of this sandwich makes it their favorite. The flavor instantly instills a sense of an old island culture and brings forth a sensory escape that is hard to rival. Anyone who visits Tampa or Miami would not have a complete visit without sampling a Cuban Sandwich. Those who have had a true Cuban sandwich often become so passionate about how it is made and will accept no substitutes.
The true Cuban sandwiches consist of layers of ham, roast pork, cheese, pickle and mustard between a sliced length of Cuban bread. The sandwich is then pressed until the ham, pork, and pickles have warmed through. A truly great sandwich is an art form - pressed nearly flat and to where the meat, cheese, and bread have fused together to form a unique culinary sensation.
The two most important ingredients that ensure the authenticity of a Cuban sandwich are the bread and the roast pork. The "Tampa Cuban" also can contain salami... likely influenced by the heavy Italian culture that was part of Tampa at the same time Ybor made his mark on the city.
Regarding the roast pork... just remember that "pork" does not equal "pork". The difference between using a quality tavern style ham along with a Spanish roast pork is important to the flavor and honored history of this sandwich. Don't use just any old meat labeled as "pork".
As for the bread... Cuban bread is not ordinary bread. The true formula is believed to come from a specific town in Cuba producing 3-foot long loaves with a crisp, flakey crust and baked while placing a palmetto frond on top center of the dough after proofing. Beautiful!!!
Although that story is hard to compete with... Italian bread or French bread are acceptable substitutions... but ONLY if you are in other parts of the country where true Cuban bread may not be available.
Surely this story was enough to help take you away to somewhere distant and tropical. Just wait until you taste it. Even if you've had a cuban sandwich before, you might find this one take things to another level. Through our own experiences and research, TheTikiBarIsOpen.com brings you only truly authentic recipes.
3 thin slices of ham
3 thin slices roast pork hot or cold (I use hot, slow roasted pork)
3 thin slices of salami
3 thin slices of Swiss cheese
3 or 4 slices of pickles
1/3 cut Cuban bread hard crust (or french bread)
You should be using fresh, crusty Cuban bread, but you can always use an 12" loaf of french bread cut in half. Slice the bread open face so that both halves are still barely connected and spread mustard on both halves. Add the ham, and then the roasted pork. When in a hurry, you can use one whole piece of roasted pork. Add your swiss cheese and then a few pickle slices. Make sure to spray your sandwich press with a little butter flavored Pam. Place the sandwich in a sandwich press and press down until the cheese is melted and the bread is slightly hard to the touch. For those of you without a press, you can also place the sandwich in a hot skillet and press down on it with a heavy kitchen object. (some, believe it or not, use a brick wrapped in tin foil when nothing else is available). When finished, slice the sandwich diagonally across the middle so that you have two triangle shaped wedges.