I have been researching the Cuban sandwich on behalf of a client for an upcoming special event in Tampa. It is a story wrapped in mystery and marred by a contentious debate between Tampa and Miami over who can claim the sandwich.
One researcher dates it back to the indigenous people of Cuba who originally made a sandwich out of fish between two pieces of casaba bread. With the arrival of the Spanish came pork and flour, which changed the nature of the sandwich, which was originally called a mixto in Cuba (it being Cuba, there was no need to call it a “Cuban” sandwich; it was just called a sandwich).
There apparently has been an ongoing and sometimes heated debate between Tampa and Miami regarding which city can claim to be the origin of the sandwich. Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado has actually weighed into the debate in the past.
Tampa claimed that the sandwich originated with the influx of Cuban cigar makers in the 1890s and first decades of the 20th century. At that time, of course, Miami was mostly swamp and there were virtually no Cubans in Miami.
Tampa claims that the modern-day sandwich Cubano, which contains thin-sliced ham, pork roast marinated in mojo, Swiss cheese and mustard on Cuban bread — with the addition of Genoa salami as a nod to the local Italian contingent — reflects that city’s diversity and that only Cuban bakers in Tampa make Cuban bread the correct way, which is wrapped in a moist palm leaf.
The medianoche was apparently developed as a snack food and served in bars in Cuba just before and after midnight, hence the name.
Tampa has an annual Tampa Cuban Sandwich Art Fair that’s staged around April 1 for the past six years. At the 2014 event, they made the world’s largest Cuban sandwich at 86.2 feet long. There is also the Miami Cuban Sandwich Smackdown held around the same time frame that claimed to draw 1 million people to Calle Ocho this year. There are also smackdowns held in Tampa and Orlando.
Ybor City’s Columbia restaurant, considered the country’s oldest Cuban/Spanish restaurant, has a Cuban sandwich recipe that dates from 1915.
So, in my humble opinion, Tampa wins as the origin of the Cuban sandwich, and, far from being something that trivializes Cuban culture, is a point of pride for the community.