On August 23rd, celebrate a sandwich that originated in Cuba, but grew up in Florida. National Cuban Sandwich Day is a tribute to flavor found in a toasted pressed sandwich.
- The Cuban sandwich is a history lesson pressed between two pieces of bread. Perhaps no other food represents the United States’ history as a melting pot at the turn of the century better than the Cubano, which combines elements from three different immigrant groups that came together.
- While an early cousin of the Cuban sandwich was born in Cuba proper, the Cuban sandwich as we know it today originated in Tampa, Florida’s cigar-producing neighborhood of Ybor City in the late 1800s (then known as Cigar City, the “cigar capital of the world”) and caught on by the early 1900s. It was popular among workers in the district’s many cigar factories.
- While it’s called a “Cuban” sandwich after the Cuban immigrants who settled in early Ybor City and influenced the sandwich the most, the ingredients are also a nod to the southern Italian bricklayers and the German cigar workers who also immigrated there.
- Salami was added via the Italian bricklayers, who found that placing a hot brick on top of the sandwich for a few minutes pressed it flat and made it taste better.
- Mustard was a condiment and flavor preferred by the Germans. It also didn’t spoil in the Florida heat. That’s why there’s no mayonnaise on a traditional Cuban sandwich–refrigeration was scarce in tropical Tampa in the early 20th century.
- It is believed by some that the sandwich was a common lunch food for workers in both the cigar factories and sugar mills of Cuba during the 1870’s. When the cigar industry in Florida shifted to Tampa in the 1880’s, the sandwich quickly appeared in workers’ cafés in Ybor City and (later) West Tampa,Fl.
- 1886 – Among the first of the large factories to come to Key West was “El Principe de Gales” owned by Vincente Martinez Ybor. In 1886, Mr. Ybor’s cigar factory was destroyed by a fire. After the fire, Mr. Ybor, induced by a committee that came from Tampa, moved his factory there.
- 1896 – The first bakery, La Joven Francesca Bakery, to bake Cuban bread in Tampa was established by a Sicilan, Francisco Ferlita in 1896.
- 1915 – Today, the La Segunda, a third-generation, family-owned bakery produces most of Tampa’s Cuban bread. The original bakery opened in 1915.
- In 1922, a fire destroyed the bakery, leaving only the brick oven standing. Ferlita rebuilt with a larger bakery, and each morning delivery boys distributed fresh bread throughout the community. A nail was placed on the outside wall of houses, and the delivery boys would slap the Cuban bread again the nail. read. During the peak years, the bakery could produce 1500 loaves of bread per day.
- 1947 – The oldest Cuban sandwich shop in Tampa, Florida, that is still in business today, is The Silver Ring Cafe. This cafe started as an Ybor City longshoremen’s bar in 1929. According to the story or legend of the cafe, in 1947, the owner smelled his staff’s preparation of Cuban sandwiches for their lunch. They smelled and tasted so good that they were put on the menu as a featured item. In 1997, the cafe moved to downtown Tampa and continues to served their award-winning Cuban sandwiches
- The bakery closed in 1973, and reopened as the Ybor City State Museum in 1974 as part of the museum complex, now known as the Ferlita Bakery
- By the 1970s, the Cuban sandwich had spread to menus around the U.S., but in 2015, the Cuban Sandwich Factory opened in Belfast, Ireland, and in 2016, the Tampa Cuban Sandwich Bar opened in Seoul, Korea.
- The annual Cuban Sandwich Festival in Ybor City attracts competitors from around the U.S. In 2015, participating restaurants joined forces to make a 105-foot-long Cuban sandwich, the world’s longest.
- Many say a “true” Cuban sandwich, starts with Cuban bread. The loaf is sliced into lengths of 8–12 inches, lightly buttered or brushed with olive oil on the crust, and cut in half horizontally.
- In 2012, the “Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich” was designated as the “signature sandwich of the city of Tampa”