Beauty and the Feast, Guest blogger
My taste buds are growing increasingly tolerant to elevated spice levels, I find myself yearning for sumptious black beans at any given meal, and plantains now rank among my top-shelf side dishes. Since arriving in the Tampa Bay area, the lofty prominence of Latin flare within the local food scene has taken firm grasp over my palate. These authentic flavors are not only addictively delectable, but signify deep-rooted traditions vital to the area’s effervescent identity.
Amongst the most iconic edible beacons of Tampa’s rich cultural history stands the Cuban sandwich; a culinary construction from which I draw both great intrigue and distress. From what I can gather, the earliest form of the Cuban, aka the Cubano, aka the mixto, first made its way to Florida in the lunch sacks of Cuban immigrants during the late 1800’s. Arriving in Tampa in conjunction with a booming cigar industry and the subsequent birth of Ybor City, the sandwich was submitted to outside cultural influences from Italian and Spanish immigrants coexisting there. Thus, the Tampa version of a Cuban sandwich includes Genoa salami in addition to the essential ham, pork, Swiss cheese and pickles layered betwixt a sliced length of Cuban bread. While extensive debate surrounds the definition of a “true” Cuban (concerning condiments, pressing and what not), general purist guidelines dictate that the sandwich must utilize real Cuban bread, incorporate the essentials mentioned above and lettuce/mayo/tomato are a big fat “no no” (save those for your BLT).
To address the distress, I’ve yet to experience one of these emblematic sandwiches. I’m missing out on perhaps Tampa’s most distinctly renowned facet of culinary culture, and that is simply not acceptable. The problem remains that in attempting to rectify this situation, I’ve found that quite a few eateries claim to harbor “the best” Cuban sandwich, from the historic Columbia Restaurant to a quaint variety store across from the St. Petersburg Airport.
I lay my plea before you: if you believe that you truly know where the all-around champ of Cuban sandwiches calls home, do let me in on the secret.