Like so many of our culinary traditions, the exact origin of the Cuban Sandwich is a mystery. One group of aficionados – mainly residents of Tampa, Florida – claim that the sandwich originated in the Ybor City area of Tampa in the 1920s by Cuban expatriates who came to the United States a few decades earlier to work in the burgeoning cigar industry. Another contingent argues just as strongly that the sandwich was actually developed in Cuba as early as the turn of the century.

No matter how or where it originated, the Cuban Sandwich (sometimes called the “Cubano” or “mixto”) is finding its way onto more and more menus. And while the exact ingredients are as much a point of debate as its birthplace, there are some common ingredients that make the Cuban Sandwich distinctive and delicious.

The Base of the Cuban Sandwich: Cuban Bread

At its base is the slightly sweet Cuban bread. (Traditionalists will argue that it must come from a Tampa bakery, but French bread can be used in a pinch.) Rubbing the bread with garlic is optional, but spreading it with butter is a must. Next comes the sliced ham – a variety that’s a little on the salty side is preferable. Since the ham is one of the “stars” of this sandwich, this is not the time to choose an inexpensive deli variety.

Then comes pulled, roasted pork: not a pork slathered in barbecue sauce, but one that’s slow-cooked with overtones of vinegar or citrus and garlic. Pork shoulder works well here. (At this point, some add Genoa salami, in honor of the Italian immigrants who moved to the Tampa area.) The meat is topped with a layer of mild Swiss cheese and a few dill pickles, sliced lengthwise. A squirt of yellow mustard is the final touch.

The key point in bringing this sandwich together is the grilling. The classic method uses a special grill called a plancha. A panini grill or griddle can also be used, with a heavy weight, such as a cast-iron pan, placed on top of the sandwich to compact it if necessary.

Introducing the Cuban Sandwich to Your Menu

Introducing the Cuban Sandwich to a menu is comparatively easy, as it uses ingredients familiar to the American palate, and the panini grill-style method of sandwich prep is everywhere these days. And recent Technomic research shows that a significant number of patrons would be likely to order a menu item with a Cuban flavor profile. Promote the Cuban Sandwich as an ethnically flavored spin on the traditional ham and cheese sandwich, and it’s bound to find a permanent place on your menu.

This article was compiled by the trend team at

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