The Original Cuban – Tampa’s Signature Sandwich {a sandwich with a history}

This weekend, Ybor City, Tampa’s historic neighborhood (named after Spanish cigar manufacturer Vicente Martinez Ybor) is host to the annual Cuban Sandwich Festival. Two days full of warm sunshine, cuban sandwiches (before they run out, which invariably they do), food trucks and even (to my delight) fried oreos. This Tampa-based blog would not be complete if it didn’t bring to you a slice of this sandwich’s colorful history and of course, the recipe to make an authentic “cuban” (designated Tampa’s official sandwich back in 2012).

Legend has it, the sandwich originated in Tampa back when the city’s main industry was cigar manufacturing; probably around the late 1880s. The factory workers who popularized this sandwich (aptly named a “mixto” back then) were made up of an eclectic mix of predominantly Cuban, Spanish, Italian and later on, German and Jewish immigrants. The factory workers brought with them their own cultures and influences merging them together with one another and reflected in this classic Tampa staple: Spanish ham, Italian Genoa salami (with peppercorns) Cuban bread and pork, German pickles and mustard. I’m not sure where the swiss cheese comes in, however.

There is some controversy as to whether the true cuban has salami or not. Traditionalists frown upon a sandwich without salami or with added salad or mayonnaise. In the interest of authenticity, I am bringing to you the original version. Apparently, anything else is just a sub. What nobody appears to dispute is that the best cuban bread comes from La Segunda Central Bakery, where they bake each long loaf with a palm frond in the middle (it helps keep the shape of bread).

I arrived late when long slender legs were being handed out. It makes it very difficult to take photos in crowded places like the festival. In any case, below I try to bring you some of the color and flavor of Ybor City and its Cuban Sandwich Festival.

Cuban Sandwich Festival Trucks

Cuban sandwich food trucks the festival.



Carmine's in Ybor

Carmine’s – one of the many famous dining establishment along Calle Setima in Ybor.


Original Bakery

A plaque commemorating the first Cuban bread bakery in Ybor. Back then, bread was distributed to the homes every day. Houses would have a nail protruding next to the front door so the loaf could be attached when delivered fresh each morning.


Original bakery building, now the Historic Ybor City Museum.


La Segunda Central Bakery

The second bakery, built after the first burned down. It still bakes cuban bread for many Florida restaurants and cafes. They make sandwiches, cubans (with lettuce and tomatoes) and an array of colorful cuban style pastries.


Ybor City street car.


Ybor Houses

Some of today’s typical residential architecture in Ybor. Old cigar factory workers houses still stand, some, like these, have been refurbished. They are predominately low single story dwellings. In the old days a row of houses would share a single outhouse in the back of a shared plot.


Ybor is full of random stray hens and roosters.


Cigar factory workers homes were mostly single story dwellings close to the factories, mostly owned by the proprietors. Inside, the walls didn’t go all the way to ceiling, allowing air to circulate and help keep the interior cool.


Today, Cuesta Rey Cigar Factory is the last remaining operational cigar factory in Tampa.



Cuban Sandwich

Sliced, pressed Cuban sandwich. First, goes the ham, then the pork, salami on top, cheese, pickles and the top slice spread with mustard. Butter is brushed on the top and bottom of the outside of the sandwich before pressing.


  • Difficulty: Easy but you must remember in which order to layer the ingredients
  • Print

Ingredients (for one sandwich):
1 9″ slice of cuban bread
4 ounces glazed ham, thinly sliced – Make your own or buy ready sliced
1 1/2 ounces pork loin, thinly sliced or make your own (recipe below) pulled pork like I did (nicer flavor)
1 ounce Genoa salami (peppercorn studded preferred), thinly sliced
2 ounces Swiss cheese
2 pickle chips (I like 3)
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
Soft butter

Cut Cuban bread in half lengthwise
Layer sliced meats and cheese in the following order: ham, pork, salami, and then cheese (it’s all about maximizing flavors)
Place pickle chips evenly on top
Spread mustard on top half of bread
Lightly butter both top and bottom of sandwich
Heat sandwich in press until crisp
Cut diagonally from corner to corner and eat from the pointy ends first

Ingredients for crock pot / slow cooker pulled pork:
3 lbs of Boston butt pork (or shoulder) – preferably pasture raised
6 garlic cloves smashed lightly with the side of knife
2 bay leaves
1 tsp of dried oregano
1 tsp of cumin powder
Juice of one large orange
Juice of half a lime
1 tsp of salt
½ tsp of black pepper
1 cup of chicken stock

Cut the pork into 1 to 2 inch cubes – don’t trim off the fat, you want flavor
Add it to the crock pot together with the rest of the ingredients
Cover and cook on high for 2 hours and then on low overnight or for 6 to 8 hours
When the meat is tender and spreads easily in your hands, drain and crumple the pork pieces
You’ll find the fat and non-meat pieces have fallen to the bottom of the pot leaving nice tender pork pieces easier to pick out and shred

Sources for the recipe include Columbia Restaurant and Fox News.

© 2014-2015 Caroline’s Family Kitchen and


  1. Leave a Reply

    Juha Palosaari

    Hi. Thanks for this great story, awesome photos and delicious recipe. I really enjoy this combination. =)

    • Leave a Reply


      Thank you Juha! I love when colorful folklore goes hand-in-hand with good food 🙂

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>