An Authentic Cuban Sandwich

Having grown up in little Havana, I have had my share of what I thought were Cuban Sandwiches. I have so many memories of sitting at the counter of Casablanca restaurant on 24th avenue and Calle Ocho as a child woofing down a perfectly toasted, 3 to 4 inch thick sandwich packed with ham, pork, and cheese. Later on, I enjoyed big, fat Cuban sandwiches at La Carreta and Latin American, as well as numerous little Cuban cafeterias all over Miami. I thought I was enjoying an authentic slice of Cubania, but it wasn’t until today that I tasted an authentic Cuban sandwich.

For those of you who live in South Florida, this morning and early afternoon was punctuated by torrential downpours. Stuck at a client’s office in Coral Gables, I had no choice but to have lunch at the small Cuban deli located on the first floor of their building. I wasn’t all that hungry, so I asked for a Medianoche, only to be told they were out of Medianoche bread. I opted then for the Cuban sandwich and I took a seat at one of the empty tables to wait for what I thought would be the same sandwich I have enjoyed literally thousands of times before.

A few minutes later, they called my name and I walked over to the counter to pick up my sandwich. It was wrapped in wax paper and to my surprise, it was about half-an-inch thick. It did not look like any Cuban sandwich I have ever eaten, so I asked the girl if she had made me the right sandwich.

“Yo pedi el sandwich Cubano,” I said, pointing to the flattened piece of bread that looked more like a tostada Cubana than a Cuban sandwich. I hoped that restating my order was enough to point out this obvious error.
“Esto es un sandwich Cubano,” she replied, confirming that it was a Cuban sandwich and pushing the tray with the stiff and flat sandwich towards me.
“Si, pero esto no luce como un sandwich Cubano,” I answered, not willing to give up so easily and attempting to argue my point that the sandwich did not look right.
“Es un sandwich Cubano,” she said, rolling her eyes before turning her attention to wrapping up the other sandwiches at her work station, leaving me there alone, confused and bewildered.

I took my flat Cuban sandwich back to my table and unwrapped it. I picked up one of the halves and looked at the contents between the two slices of bread, which immediately provided the reason why the sandwich was so flat. It contained one slice of ham, one slice of pork, one slice of cheese, a couple of pickles, and way too much mustard. One bite of the sandwich confirmed my visual inspection; instead of tasting like a Cuban sandwich, it tasted like Cuban bread with too much mustard and only one slice of ham, one slice of pork, and one slice of cheese.

As paltry as the sandwich was, I ended up not being able to finish it simply because it was horrible. I was getting upset that I had just paid $6.50 for what must have been the worst Cuban sandwich ever created on God’s green earth, when it hit me: This is an authentic Cuban sandwich. In Cuba there are no mounds of ham and pork. In Cuba there is no stack of melted Swiss cheese dripping down the sides of a sandwich. In Cuba you would be lucky to have butter, let alone the delicate taste of butter mixing with just the right amount of mustard. In Cuba, you have to stand in line for hours just for some bread, so imagine how difficult it is to get your hands on some ham, pork, or cheese. In Cuba you will never find a Cuban sandwich stacked 4 inches high with mounds of meat and cheese.

Today, I had my first authentic Cuban sandwich. Between you and me, I like the Miami reproductions better.



13 thoughts on “An Authentic Cuban Sandwich

  1. We take a lot of things for granted here in exile. We are very lucky souls that our parents fled the socialist paradise and gave us the USA as our home. That’s why we’ll protect her. She’s all we have…

  2. Ditto George,

    By the way, in my book the best Cuban sandwich in Miami is the one at Badia’s in Hialeah.

  3. Humberto,if you think that was bad, try Tampa or Key West. Apparently because most of their cubans are generations removed from the Motherland, the Cubannes has been distilled from both te “sanguisis” and the cafecito at both of those places. There needed to be a photographer present to capture my mug when I first tasted the SALAMI in my Tampa sandwich, or at least to chronicle my futile search for a decent cup of cuban coffee in Key West, where apparently no one ever heard of “espumita” in your coffee.

  4. BTW, I don’t have one candidate for Best Cuban Sandwich, but I gotta tell you that I recently had the most sublime pan con lechon at a place called “La Esquina del Lechon” in Doral, of all places.

  5. Papi’s panaderia in Puerto Rico made a KICKASS Cuban Sandwich. The ham was knife sliced out of the leg, so it looked like REAL ham not like sliced processed ham. Same with the pernil.

    I really miss those sandwiches; everytime I went to PR I’d bring back one with me.


  6. This reminds me of a story that may be apocryphal since I heard it on the BBC but here goes.
    Walt Disney in the early 1930’s when working on Pinocchio sent his artists to Wurzburg Germany and other German towns to copy the Germanic villages for the animated film. After World War II all of these towns and villages were totally destroyed so the US Army requested the sketches and designs to reconstruct the towns which is why American tourists remark how the villages look like Disneyland. Life imitating life.

  7. The discussion of el sammich cubano isn’t making the “Flat Belly Diet” go any easier here. 🙁

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