© 2023 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The Cuban Sandwich War Is Over, Miami Concedes Defeat

A picture of a Cuban Sandwich. This looks seriously delicious. The question is: Where was it made, Miami or Tampa?

After an incursion by the upstart Miami Cuban community, the people have spoken – Tampa is the true home of the Cuban sandwich.

More than 7,200 people voted at the NPR food blog, “The Salt,” and the results speak for themselves: 57 percent for Tampa, 43 percent for Miami as the true home of the Cuban sandwich.

Illustrated Florida map
Tampa's map of Florida has the Sunshine Skyway Bridge near Tampa... and boring skyscrapers and condos near Miami.

That shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that history and FACT were on Tampa’s side. But some people need to be convinced.

The sandwich is, of course, the invention of cigar workers in Tampa’s Ybor City. It can be served cold or hot-pressed, and includes Cuban bread, shredded pork, glazed ham, swiss cheese, a pickle and mustard.

The Tampa version has Genoa salami. Miamians consider this an abomination.

This all started when the Tampa City Council voted to rename it the “Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich.” They even considered whether to trademark it.

Miami Mayor (and Cuban exile) Tomas Regalado turned up the heat when he dissed Tampa’s version of the sandwich.

“Oh. Wow,’’ Regalado said. “Tampa certainly has a tradition, but salami is for pizza.’’

WLRN in Miami and WUSF in Tampa took it upon ourselves to settle this once and for all. We had dueling essays and dueling audio stories.

NPR’s Luis Clemens agreed to judge. He’s Cuban and from Miami, so he knows this sandwich.

“I’ve lived all over the world, from Argentina to Zimbabwe, and everywhere I go I always crave a Cuban sandwich,” he said.

He listened to both audio stories, and judged them on 1. Which one represents the taste of a Cuban sandwich better, using audio, and 2. Which one makes the better historical claim for the ownership of the Cuban sandwich.

First, he listened to WUSF’s Bobbie O’Brien make the case for Tampa. He said he came away hungry.

“I love the opening of the piece, and the sound of the outsized kitchen knife slicing through the bread, and the bread crumbs flying everywhere,” he said.

“And the reference to a Cuban cigar immediately transported me to the last time where I sat somewhere smoking a cigar, drinking Cuban coffee and wishing I had a Cuban sandwich. It was very precise, very evocative. It really had me thinking of how hungry I am right now.

“And I love the notion of Miami being perhaps the place where people are a little too weight conscious, and concerned about just eating the meat, and not eating the bread,” he said.

Then, he listened to WLRN’s Kenny Malone take an attack-ad approach to knocking down Tampa’s sandwich.

“I love the attack ad notion, because its true to Miami politics and Cuban American politics,” Clemens said.

“But you know, some things should be above attack ads,” he said.

“When the mayor said the notion of salami in a Cuban sandwich would have his grandmother crossing herself and saying, ‘¡Sacrilegio!’ -- it was compelling.

“But it didn’t provoke the taste buds. It didn’t evoke the notion of the pork melting in your mouth,” he said.

“I’m sorry, Tampa won this deal. And that’s coming from a Miami native.”

But that does not mean Tampa has any larger claim, he added.

“Now, just to be clear, the Cuban cred is all Miami. If we were to ask, ‘¿Quien es mas macho?’ – it’s Miami.”