Category Archives: Culinary History

Stalking the Wild Cubano


The Cuban sandwich is important. People fight for it and about it. Who created it and where? That is just the tip  of the loaf. My take? The Cuban sandwich is ubiquitous and no one will ever know its exact origin. Mystery is as beautiful as a slice of pink ham.

Were I a betting woman, and I am, for tiny bits of currency, my money would be, and is, on Tampa. Bet ya a nickel. Tampa is big though and pinpointing seems impossible.

The following are Cuban sandwich rantings, ravings, hurrahings and revelings. No answers and plenty of questions. 

“Miami was not even spit in the eye when Tampa was doing business with Havana,” Manteiga said. I believe it. Read and chose your conclusions here.

Meanwhile, if you are eating in Tampa and reaching for roots, the Cuban sandwich is the linchpin.

We sat at the Manteiga family’s private table, on ornately carved wooden chairs, in a corner of La Tropicana Cafe, which for decades has been a gathering place on Seventh Avenue for Ybor City’s immigrant community. Over a lunch of Spanish bean soup, Cuban sandwiches and deviled crab (a dish created by striking cigar factory workers in the 1920s), we chatted a bit about Tampa foodways and its ultimate fusion dish, crab chilau — blue-crab meat in a spicy enchilada sauce, often served over spaghetti — which perfectly represents Ybor City’s cultural mix. But mostly we talked history. More here.

Recently I had the good fortune to visit the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, Florida. FullSizeRenderThe Columbia is legendary and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about – a venture into another world, through a rabbit hole or trick door indeed. Columbia5

Also, I wanted to eat a Cubano in the city that claims to be its originator. One of the cities, I should say.


Talk of the Cubano elicits heated debate from all camps –  I have witnessed debates, and endless rabbit holes. The bread alone is google-maps-worthy. More on that later.

Columbia6Place of origin, salami or no salami, who bakes the proper bread, butter before pressing or not, exact ham, how manypic and…did I mention place of origin?Columbia3

I’ve been down this tunnel before and it’s no less twisty this time. Posts on Cubanos here and here and here and here and here, the first from ten years ago at the birth of The Lunch Encounter. Nevertheless, I am taking a stab at parsing the particulars, plain and simple. Here we go!

According to Clarissa Buch of Thrillist

In the mid-1800s, the Cuban tobacco industry emerged in Florida, where it first emerged in Key West. Later, tobacco moved north to Tampa, with thousands relocating to Ybor City — a historic neighborhood founded by cigar manufacturers with Cuban, Spanish, and Italian descent. Because of the influx of immigrants who mainly worked in factories, a quick, affordable lunch was yearned for. This marked the rise of the Cuban sandwich.

“Above all, you need a moist palmetto leaf on top of the dough before it’s baked,” says David Leon of La Segunda Central Bakery, the largest producer of Cuban bread in Tampa. “The dough rises and wraps around the leaf, giving the bread flavor.”

Family-owned La Segunda Central Bakery, which has been around for more than 100 years, chops nearly 60,000 leaves by hand each day, making about 18,000 loaves which are used in Tampa and shipped across the country, including Miami. “Ninety percent of the work is done by hand,” says Leon. “It’s a very old-school process. Using the leaf is what creates those peaks and valleys that Cuban bread is known for.”

After the bread is made, the ingredients are placed inside. The roast pork, says Astorquiza, must be marinated in mojo, which blends spices like bitter orange, oregano, cumin, garlic, onion, vinegar, and salt. The best way to do it, he says, is to marinate the pork overnight. The cheese must be Swiss, and if salami is used, it should be Genoa. If you’re extremely particular, make sure to use exactly three pickles. And, whatever you do, only use sweet cured ham (or something similar to it) because it’s crucial to not overpower the other ingredients’ flavors. Don’t forget mustard… and sometimes butter depending on where you’re eating.

Read more here.

Bread – crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, wider and flatter than a baguette, not nearly as hard a crust, the bread at Versailles in Miami has a little lard in its recipe and is “basically a pan de agua” – Puerto Rican water bread

Ham – mojo marinated, “sweet ham”

Pickles – dills sliced thinly lengthwise

Pork – loin or shoulder

Cheese – imported Swiss – why imported?

Salami – Genoa, peppercorn-studded preferred (Columbia Restaurant)

Mustard – yellow

Butter – butter the outside of the bread generously before pressing

Mauricio Faedo’s Bakery

The Columbia Restaurant’s recipe here. It does include salami and bread from La Segunda Central Bakery. The recipe headnote includes mention of a “smashed Cuban”, which is what you might expect, a heavily pressed sandwich.

The Columbia’s Pork Loin

Roast Cuban Pork:
1 each Fresh Pork shoulder (about 5 lbs.)
1 cup Sour Orange Juice (if not available, ½ cup lime juice and ½ cup orange juice)
8 each Large garlic cloves
2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
4 each bay leaves

The Cuban Sandwich at Versailles in Miami’s Little Havana recipe here on Eater Elements.

Next time I am in Tampa I want to try La Teresita, but that will have to be after another visit to La Columbia. The place is huge, man, and I want to trip up and down every staircase, gaze into each mirror, wish on the individual tiles.

UPDATE! I have been to the Columbia again and to Segundo Bakery. So exciting! Posts to come. PTK. Hurrah! Hooray! Booyah!




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Poland’s National Obsession with Sandwiches

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Foreigners, especially those from Anglo-Saxon countries, are often taken aback by our “kanapki”. These open sandwiches we eat at every possible mealtime leave the “filling on top” exposed to the elements, unlike in so-called “normal” sandwiches.

Kanapki (from the French word “canapés”) appeared in Poland at the end of the 19th century thanks to French cuisine. Smaller open sandwiches, or canapés, were actually called “tartinki”. The names have a certain irony here though, as “tartines” in France are actually large open sandwiches, while, as everybody knows, canapés are bite-sized.

Read on here.

Tartinki. What’s not to want? Such a sweet and appetizing-zing word. Not to be confused with open-faced Chinese poker.

Smørrebrød, the open-faced Danish sandwiches that truly are a part of everyday Danish life, are relations to tartinki, of course. There is no escaping all of our connections, culinary or otherwise. The indigenous foods of Poland cannot be much different from those of lower Scandinavia. Take away the man-made borders and you get earth made connections of climate and soil. Right? Right.

Denmark’s sandwiches are those that I know best, but I would bet my bottom pound of butter that there are chain-strong links all across northern Europe that make a dot-to-dot map of open-faced sandwiches, using many of the same or similar ingredients – butter, shrimp, eggs, cheese, smoked fish, caviar, cucumber and all the other abundances of cool, four-season climates.

The urge to visit Poland never hit me so hard as it did when I read about a shared obsession. After food, what binds us the most? Desire, disposition, oh my.

How Many Pigs Can Dance on a Slice of Bread?

Eat a Pig SandwichDid the pig drive the drive-in-and-through?

Culinary Historians – you know who you are! – read on.

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 9.24.50 AMCHOWDC

Surfin’ and Turfin’

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pier ‘n steer


beef ‘n reef

mar y tierra
vinylsurfandturfSurf and turf

Screen Shot 2013-04-21 at 9.05.09 AMDog n Fish

Surf and Turf Lost Dog style = Roast beef, crabmeat, and brie on a sandwich. I would call that boeuf and surf and turf.

Wikipedia sez
Its earliest-known published use is in a 1967 advertisement in the Buffalo, New York Yellow Pages, placed by a restaurant called Michael’s House of Steaks. Jane and Michael Stern claim that it was served under this name in the SkyCity restaurant (in Seattle’s Space Needle) at the 1962 World’s Fair. In the Sterns’ Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, Surf ‘n’ Turf epitomizes culinary kitsch: “the point…is to maximize hedonistic extravagance” by ordering the two most expensive things on the menu; that is, the menu is guided not by aesthetic concerns, but for the sake of vulgar display.

I pine to design a sandwich, a tiny surf n turf of a single sardine and an itty bitty lamb loin medallion.

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A cake is a cake is a cake is a cake

So a birthday cake would, were it not a cake call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which it owes
Without that title
And grant your wish undoubtedly

I am a smorgastista. Easier on my wallet then another sort of ista, and does not take up closet space.

My very own mother is an expert on birthday cakes and basks in the glow of tiny candle light brigades of scholarly glory.

“The Birthday Cake: Its Evolution from a Rite of the Elite to the Right of Everyone,” by Shirley Cherkasky is her cake chef d’oeuvre, received with exuberant interest by culinary historians and lay people worldwide.

Encyclopedia of Food and Culture

Wondering why oh why we put candles on a cake? How odd. My mother knows and so can you. She is a wonder.

Since the Dawn of Time, The Fruit Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree

Post Express, Wednesday, February 2, 2011

An Extra Helping of History: Culinary Historians of Washington, D.C.

At the December meeting of the Culinary Historians of Washington, D.C., members started their gathering in the usual way — by engaging in culinary show-and-tell. Congregating in the decidedly unappetizing surroundings of a government conference room in Bethesda, the cadre of chefs, foodies and history buffs passed around what seemed to be the tiny stone club of some bloodthirsty pygmy and a small, white, plastic device that resembled those three-legged alien spaceships in “War of the Worlds.”

After lots of exclamations of “What they heck?” and handling of the oddities, club vice president CiCi Williamson, 66, a writer from McLean, Va., revealed that the club would’ve been used in Micronesia to pulverize breadfruit, and that the UFO was actually a hard-boiled egg peeler from the 1950s. “That looks like more trouble than it’s worth,” Williamson said as she passed the egg peeler back to its owner.

History may be written by the winners, but it’s what denizens of past decades had for dinners that concerns the Culinary Historians of Washington, D.C. (ChoW/DC for short). For 16 years, the group has met monthly to hear speakers, compare old recipes and, of course, eat a combo of retro foods and modern dishes. “Having a bite gets people talking,” said Shirley Cherkasky, 83, who is the group’s founder.

At the December meeting, folks snacked on candied pumpkin slices inspired by ancient Mexican customs, corn bread made from one member’s old family recipe and Southern-style hummus made from black-eyed peas. Once a year, the group gets together for a history-themed dinner. The last feast starred Native American dishes such as bison stew, cactus salad and cornmeal hotcakes with prickly-pear syrup.

But it’s the lively appetite for knowledge that really keeps members showing up. In December, Katie Leonard Turner, a visiting assistant professor of history at Philadelphia University, chatted about turn-of-the-20th-century convenience foods, from the hot dogs that working-class Philly men enjoyed in saloons to the pre-made pastries (meat and vegetable filled pasties not unlike empanadas) favored by stay-at-home moms.

“Food provides a window into what peoples’ day-to-day lives were like back then,” Turner said. Other talks have covered morsels from the invention of the hamburger (probably in the 1880s in the U.S., FYI) to the origins of chop suey (it, too, was created in the United States, not China, back at the end of the 19th century).

“The average American doesn’t know where their food comes from and the story behind it,” Williamson said. “But if you look back at history, you can find out how we got to where we are today.”

It’s no surprise that, as the members of CHoW/DC wandered out of their December session, they were talking about food trucks and the roots of Caribbean cuisine, a sure sign that they’re making the sort of tasty history members will be pondering at meetings far in the future.

Written by Express contributor Nevin Martell