The search for the perfect Cuban sandwich

The Tampa Bay Online magazine published today this appetizing story about the famous Cuban treat.

Sometime between now and the Fourth of July, Andy Huse will try to make the perfect Cuban sandwich.

Think about what that means.

Instead of sliced pork from the deli, Huse will roast a pork shoulder the way it used to be done back in Ybor City’s heyday, when it took 30 hours to properly marinate and roast.

There will be no processed ham. Regular salami is out of the question. Today’s cold cuts are designed for longevity, not flavor. Their saltiness adds a flavor profile nothing like the original’s. It would be like rebuilding the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria with fiberglass and outboards.

“The personal goal I have is to do all the meats myself,” Huse says. “I need to have it out with the sandwich so I can let it go and move on with my life.”

To Huse, a University of South Florida food historian who obsesses about Tampa’s historic foodways, the Cuban sandwich born in Tampa is a work of art. He gave a seminar about it recently at the Tampa Bay History Museum.

The short story of the sandwich is that it was birthed after the cigar industry relocated from Cuba to Key West and then to Tampa in the mid-1800s. Ybor City boomed as a new home for Cubans, Spaniards and Italians, among other groups. Their respective cuisines mingled.

Because they lived in homes pre-air conditioning, the aromas of their food mingled as well.

“Everyone is walking up and down sidewalks smelling each other’s food all day long,” Huse says. “Those conditions are a great breeding ground for cross-cultural pollination of food.”

By the 1920s, the sandwich was a popular staple during the post-World War I boom that Ybor City experienced as cigars reached their peak in popularity. That ended in the 1940s when World War II began. After the war, the population moved to the suburbs and traditional foods fell in favor to convenience and modernization. Hand-crafted food preparation was abandoned.

Not all is lost, though.

After nearly a century in business, La Segunda Bakery in Tampa still makes what Huse says is the best Cuban bread anywhere. Most people who eat a Cuban in Miami will tell you the bread baked there tastes different.

“It kind of got perfected here and it has kind of died off everywhere else,” Huse says. “Tampa is one of the few places keeping it alive.”

The Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City and The Floridian on Treasure Island still care enough to build the sandwich properly, he says.

“It’s about the perfect proportions of ingredients,” he says

For the original story go to http://www2.tbo.com/content/2010/jun/03/041544/cuban-sandwiches-feed-history-lovers/life/

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