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Cuban Sandwich

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Family Story

As a small child, it was a treat to take a few extras turns on a road trip somewhere when my mother knew we were in the range of a Sandwich Cubano. The pressed marinated pork, ham & cheese sandwich greased with loads of butter that ought to require rolled-up sleeves if made right. My sister and I would each cherish our own, silenced by the need to eat it hot when Mom passed them back to us in the huge Buick wagon. As with countless immigrants who come to the States, my mother knew she would never return home. Ever. She landed in Brooklyn in the 1960's from Havana, Cuba at the sweet age of 25. The very flavors, music, and language that were once inherent and first nature to her soon became conscious acts and even private encounters. As far as I knew, my mother was sharing an edible piece of the Cuban flag, a deeply savory memoir of her patrimony which I gathered to be the very impulse for steering off course. It was a sought-after family picnic staple and an important imprint on her children's sense of taste. As a child of someone from a place of no return, I was always aware that Cuba would remain an illusory landscape that would I would have to come to reconstruct thru the ingredients, songs and all the infinite 'cubanismos' that she celebrated with us. To my surprise, at the age of 49, with my mother in America for over 50 years and, after 5 years of marriage to a man born in Havana, Cuba in 1968, I just discovered that the Cuban Sandwich does not and never has existed in Cuba! Turns out to be a Cuban refugee invention, a Miami mess of ingredients 'a la mano' in south Florida some 50 years ago. Where there's pork, there are Cubans, for sure. But, of course! Aha! How did I never piece it together? It's the Cuban revolutionary Reuben, a hybrid of a hybrid of American ingredients cobbled into a cultural context that would explain the yellow mustard, pickles, & Swiss cheese in a Cuban sandwich!! I always did wonder how that combo came upon the Caribbean food scene for just this sandwich. When I placed one in front of my Cuban partner he flat out declared that he had no idea what it was and that never ever, blockade or no blockade, had he'd seen or tasted a Sandwich Cubano inside Cuba albeit he was eager to try it. One phone call to my mother and she confessed that she, indeed, ate her first Sandwich Cubano in Miami in the 1960's! It was the Media Noche which was the popular sandwich in Cuba during her time growing up there. If you're in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I'm remaking this Cuban American specialty called EL GUSANO MALO on our special CUBAN MENU along with Carne Asada, Black Beans & Rice, Tostones with Mojo de Ajo and a sweet guayaba vanilla pastry called Masa Real de Guayaba all featured in my shop, DeliQ, dedicated to homesick recipes like this one.


1 Step

Layer slices of the marinated pork, ham, and Swiss cheese and place in lightly greased hot pan to heat up. Open bread roll in half and heat face down on the pan. Once it toasts a bit, spread the two tablespoons of mustard and the sliced pickle across on side. Add the layers of meat and cheese. Then, turn up the heat, add one tablespoon of butter and with the first sizzle, add the sandwich and press it with another heavy pan. Let it crisp up for two minutes and lift the sandwich add the second pat of butter and repeat and until the cheese starts to ooze. Eat immediately.


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