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What is the Difference Between a Miami and Tampa Cuban Sandwich? How Did this Sandwich End up in Florida?

L. Cane

There are some foods that Florida is known for, including:

  • key lime pie
  • strawberry shortcake
  • Florida oranges
  • deviled crab, and
  • Apalachicola Oysters.

But perhaps few are as well known as the Cuban sandwich, and the cities of Miami and Tampa both claim to be home to the best. So what makes the Miami and Tampa Cuban sandwiches different from one another? I'll cover that below. And I'll discuss the history of the Cuban sandwich, as well as what food critics have said about the sandwich in both Miami and Tampa.

How Did the Cuban Sandwich End Up in Florida?: According to Thrillist, who spoke with Tampa food chemist Jorge Astorquiza, the Taino tribe in Cuba were the first to make a sandwich from crispy casabe bread, which somewhat resembled a Cuban sandwich with one exception - it didn't have pork. The Taino only had access to fish and bird meat. However, once Spaniards arrived on the island, pork became available, and the sandwich soon evolved to include pork.

Later, a tobacco industry cropped up in Ybor City, near Tampa. As a result, workers in the tobacco trade needed cheap, easy lunches that could be eaten quickly. The Cuban sandwich fit the bill. Because of this, Jorge Astorquiza is adamant that Tampa is the true home of the Cuban sandwich, telling Thrillist:

“To call Miami the originator of the Cuban sandwich is the biggest lie ever. It has absolutely no roots. There were no Cubans in Miami at the time. It was all swampland.”

Even if one agrees that the sandwich originated in Tampa, many believe that Miami made the sandwich popular. Dr. Paul George, a historian at the HistoryMiami Museum, told Thrillist:

“...Miami has such a large Cuban population, which made the sandwich really pervasive. Instead of it being confined to small neighborhoods in Tampa, Miami made it mainstream.”

What's Included in a Cuban Sandwich?: Aside from the small differences between the Miami and Tampa Cuban sandwiches, the main ingredients in most Cuban sandwiches are roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, Cuban bread, pickles, butter, mustard, and, depending on where you are, Genoa salami. Many believe that proper Cuban bread must have a palmetto leaf on top, like the bread from La Segunda Central Bakery in Tampa.

What's the Difference Between a Miami Cuban Sandwich and One From Tampa?: According to Visit Florida, in Tampa, you might be offered Genoa salami with your Cuban sandwich, since Italian immigrants in Ybor City added this meat to the toppings. And Tampa restaurants may ask you if you want mayonnaise or other toppings with your sandwich. You may also be given the option of eating it cold. In Miami, it is assumed that it will be pressed without extra toppings and without salomi. You can see the salami included below on a Columbia Restaurant Cuban sandwich, which is in Tampa.

Which Do Food Critics Say About Each City's Cuban?: Not surprisingly, opinions differ on each city's sandwich. Art Smith, a 6th generation Floridian and James Beard award-winning chef, told the Tampa Bay Times:

"Miami is going to kill me, but I think the best Cuban sandwich in the whole state is in Tampa."

Smith felt that the West Tampa Sandwich Shop was the best restaurant in Florida for a Cuban sandwich.

However, food critics for Taste Atlas chose Miami's Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop as having the best Cuban sandwich in the world. The Columbia Restaurant in Tampa came in 5th place.

Because opinions are so divided, one might have to decide for themselves which city has the best Cuban sandwich, since both arguably have delicious options from which to choose.

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