Chef Essig's Featured Item of the Week

The Ever Popular Cuban Sandwich

If you have been lucky enough to spend some time in Florida, namely Key West, Miami, or Tampa, chances are you may have come across a tasty lunchtime favorite originally from their neighboring country, Cuba.

cuban sandwich

The populated area of the island of Cuba is smaller than the state of Pennsylvania, but it is rich in history and culture. In the 1800’s, many Cubans moved to Key West to avoid the tightening of Spanish rule. They brought their traditions and cuisine with them, adding to the culinary repertoire of America. The Spaniards, who had a presence there since the days of Christopher Columbus, introduced many ingredients to the islands including ham (jamon)... which is a very important component to the Cuban Sandwich.

The Cuban Sandwich is a tradition in its own country and now in the Southern United States... and it's popularity is even spreading north to Greeley! The trade embargo (which had been in effect since 1960) may have stopped you from traveling to Cuba, but you can now get a little taste of the cuisine that lies only 90 miles south of the coast of Florida.

Creating This Tasty Sandwich

The main ingredient of a Cuban Sandwich is pork roast which has been rubbed with mojo (garlic citrus marinade) and slowly roasted until tender. The pork roast forms the base of the sandwich followed by ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, and yellow mustard. These ingredients are placed between two pieces of hearty bread that have been buttered and lightly grilled.

Cuban Sandwich

Once assembled, the sandwich is placed on a hot grill or in a "La Plancha" (sandwich press) to press the flavors of the sandwich into the bread. This also warms the ingredients while melting the cheese slightly. The sandwich is most often served with shredded lettuce and thinly sliced tomato.

Sugar Mills & Cigar Factories

Those ingredients make up the basic Cuban Sandwich that was popularized in the sugar mills of Cuba. Residents would set up restaurants inside the mills and sell the sandwiches to the workers on their lunch breaks.

cuban sandwich

In 1886, Vincente Martinez Ybor moved his cigar factory "El Principe de Gales" from Key West to Tampa. This was the beginning of Ybor City, where the cigar factory workers and their families lived and formed one of the strongest Latin communities in the United States during this time. Cuban Sandwiches were popular with the immigrants in Ybor City who worked in the cigar factories. The Cuban Sandwiches were the "value meal" of the time, selling for 15 cents each.

cuban sandwich

In the late 1800's, the major ethnic groups of Ybor City were Cubans and Italians, so although not originally in the variations seen in Cuba, Italian Genoa Salami was added to the Cuban Sandwiches in the Tampa area.

This could become your next favorite sandwich!

For now, allow UNC Dining Services to bring a taste of Cuba to your plate, and enjoy a wonderful lunchtime favorite!

  • Item to try: Cuban Sandwich
  • Where: Tobey-Kendel Dining Room @ The Grille
  • When: Wednesday, March 2nd @ Lunch

Happy Dining!
Executive Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA

Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA

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