Updated: Feb 6
Carmen: [00:00:00] Dear gringos, please stop calling it a Cubano. Call it a Cuban sandwich. Besitos, Cubans.
Fryda: [00:00:20] We mean it because a Cubano is a Cuban person.
Carmen: [00:00:25] Yeah, oh and also, I'm sorry, but you don't sound cool when you run around being like Cu-Bah-No. Stay in your lane.
Fryda: [00:00:33] Oh
Carmen: [00:00:35] I went there.
Fryda: [00:00:36] You went there. So you might think, but I'm trying to learn Spanish.
And so I'm trying to say Cubano. Cubans, don't call it Cubano. Cubans, call it un sh cubano. So if you're trying to learn Spanish, say the whole thing in Spanish: "yo quiero un sandwich cubano." And if you're Miamian, this is how you say sandwich: san-guiche. S A N G U I C H. Trust me, we're offering you a lot of options depending on whether you're like actually trying to learn Spanish or not.
Carmen: [00:01:12] We can just call it a Cuban sandwich. Can we just all agree? I'm so salty. I'm a little salty about this. Sorry, guys.
Fryda: [00:01:20] Saltier than the Cuban sandwich itself?
Carmen: [00:01:22] Boo-doom-pshhhh.
Fryda: [00:01:24] Hey, Carmen.
Carmen: [00:01:25] Hey, Fryda.
Fryda: [00:01:26] What's up.
Carmen: [00:01:28] What's up is let me just go ahead and lay it out there as to how this episode came to be. Today we're talking about the very famous Cuban sandwich. People keep asking me what is the best Cuban sandwich in X city? Where's the best Cuban sandwich in New York. And honestly, up until very recently, I have always answered that question with, "I'm sorry, it does not exist. The best Cuban sandwich is only in Florida," specifically, I would say Miami, but once I got into the research for this episode, I realized it's not necessarily Miami.
Fryda: [00:02:05] Pero que que? Carmen, hold on, hold on, hold on. Miami's like not the center of the universe for everything Cuban?
Carmen: [00:02:11] It's not, much to my shock. There's three controversies to the Cuban sandwich. Is it even Cuban?
Fryda: [00:02:18] Uh! Pero qué qué?
Carmen: [00:02:20] Yup. What city takes credit for it? Is it Miami?
Fryda: [00:02:26] Um, That's what I thought.
Carmen: [00:02:29] And the last controversy is ,what are the actual ingredients? And I think that's where it really started for me.
Fryda: [00:02:37] But Carmen, isn't there only one Cuban sandwich?
Carmen: [00:02:41] Okay. Well, you know what? Let me tell you about the day that I walked into a Panera and I saw on the menu a "Cubano" and they had black forest ham on it. And I was like, I'm sorry, I cannot dine here anymore. Goodbye. Yeah. There there's a lot of controversy.
Fryda: [00:02:57] I was just thinking of like a really dramatic scene at Panera where you just like walk in and like storm right out.
Carmen: [00:03:04] And no one knows why.
Fryda: [00:03:06] No one knows why.
Carmen: [00:03:08] That you know, knowing me. I would totally pull something like that.
Fryda: [00:03:12] Just imagine a Cuban sandwich on like, focaccia bread or like on an Italian bread
Carmen: [00:03:17] No no no, please top.
Fryda: [00:03:17] Or something else. I'm trying to get Carmen to throw up, which actually isn't that hard.
Carmen: [00:03:21] Oh, wow. Fryda.
Fryda: [00:03:23] I brought that here.
Carmen: [00:03:25] Thanks. Thank you for that. Anyway,
Fryda: [00:03:27] Back to the Cuban sandwich, we have all these controversies. There's a bunch of people, cities, and more who have opinions about the sandwich. And now it's all over the place. It's at Panera.
So let's dive into the first controversy, right? The question of, how is it possible that the Cuban sandwich may not be Cuban?
Carmen: [00:03:51] Dun dun dun.
Fryda: [00:03:53] So like is any part of the Cuban sandwich from the Island?
Carmen: [00:03:56] It's actually very difficult to pinpoint the exact moment that the Cuban sandwich was made and who exactly made it.
But I've read that more than 500 years ago, theTaino tribe began making casabe bread made from yuca and started making this sandwich. At the time they had not yet been colonized by the Spanish. And so Cuba didn't have any pigs. So pork was not a thing quite yet. It was believed that they made the sandwich with stuffed fish and bird meat at the center.
And the bread was still very crunchy. Because it's yuca bread, it would be more like a cracker than really a doughy bread. So we're going to say that that's the very beginnings of this concept. And then later on it completely morphed into a different sandwich.
Fryda: [00:04:42] I think where where we're starting at is describing the earliest account of a sandwich made in Cuba by Cubans, the original Cubans, I would say, the Tainos, who were one of the many indigenous people existing in the Caribbean -- we're not saying that this is the first iteration of the Cuban sandwich we have today, but let's say this is the first time a sandwich was made in Cuba and it was known as a sandwich. So after the Tainos made this fish and bird meat inside these two crunchy crackers, Europeans, as we know, mainly the Spaniards, came over and we know they brought pigs. And so meats like pork and ham were being introduced at this time into the native diet as well.
There were sandwiches in Cuba before the Cuban sandwich that we know today came about,
Carmen: [00:05:33] but Fryda does it even matter to mention Cuba because. Is the Cuban sandwich Cuban?
Fryda: [00:05:39] Well, let's get into the people living in Ybor city. Ybor city is spelled Y B O R. It is in Tampa. And so in the mid 18 hundreds, pre-revolution, Tampa, as well as New York, is where you would find a ton of Cubans because a lot of Cubans came over to work in cigar factories, but it wasn't just Cubans.
Right? Carmen, there were other people in Ybor city.
Carmen: [00:06:03] In the mid 18 hundreds, the Cuban tobacco industry first came to Florida specifically in Key West. And a little bit later, it moved up to North Tampa, specifically Ybor city. And with these factories came lots of immigrants who came to work, not only Cubans, but Spanish, Italian, and Jewish people.
I mean, tale as old as time, right? Immigrants show up at a place and the work that they find is in factories. These people need a quick affordable lunch in their break of the day when they're working in factories. And so that is where we enter with the Cuban sandwich. The development of the Cuban sandwich at this time begins with Cuban bread.
Fryda: [00:06:45] Many of our listeners may never have tried Cuban bread, but Cuban bread was actually apparently also invented in Tampa. Like! So there was a, there's a bakery called La Joven Franchesca or La Joven Francesca bakery established in the late 18 hundreds by a Sicilian -born Fransisco Ferlita, who was actually a Cuban-Spanish-Italian immigrant, like what a concoction, what a combination.
And so it's believed that he created the particular style of bread called Cuban bread, which like we now find in Cuba as well, and we find all over Miami. And so it's really interesting to, again, trace the origins of this ingredient that we believe is essentially Cuban, but created by an immigrant living in the diaspora.
So Cuban bread is crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. It creates so many crumbs when you bite into it. And it has lard in it because the most Cuban thing you can do is make something like bread and still make it have pork in the ingredients.
Carmen: [00:07:54] I still remember the day that I found out Cuban bread by itself has like 800 calories in one slice.
If you've ever had a Cuban bread, you think, how is that possible? Because Cuban bread in itself is so fluffy and airy on the inside. And it's the, all the lard, it's all the lard.
Fryda: [00:08:10] One of the things I used to do when I was a kid was -- now, I'm like, wow, what an asshole Fryda -- my parents used to buy Cuban bread. And on the way back home, I would stick my little kid hands into the center and eat the core of the Cuban bread and leave the outside.
So, because the inside was like, so chewy and soft,
Carmen: [00:08:29] that's where the good stuff is.
Fryda: [00:08:31] My parents would come home and they'd go, they'd take out the bread. And it still looked like it was intact. I had just hollowed it out.
Carmen: [00:08:37] Yeah, you can't have a Cuban sandwich without Cuban bread. I will say that one more time for the people in the back. You cannot have Cuban sandwich without Cuban bread. Cool. We can move on now. The next thing is back in the day it was made with pork, ham, turkey, Genoa, salami, Swiss cheese, sour pickle slices, and mustard on this Cuban bread. That was the sandwich that immigrants were eating in Ybor city. That, at the time, was not called a Cuban sandwich. That was called un mixto, because of the mixed meats. Later, the English speakers began to call it a Cuban.
Fryda: [00:09:16] Cause they watched those Cubans eat those sandwiches and they were like, well, this is a Cuban. Yeah, like that's really it, there's also a specific restaurant that claims to have created this mixto sandwich that later on became the Cuban sandwich and it's called Columbia restaurant.
It's still exists to this day and you can still visit it. What we know about the origin of this mixto sandwich, at least the mythology is that different ingredients came from different immigrants. So in a way it's like this beautiful melting pot of a sandwich, right? So the Spanish brought the ham. Italian Sicilians brought the Genoa salami.
Carmen: [00:09:56] Yep. And it has to be Genoa. Who brought the Turkey?
Fryda: [00:09:59] Wait Turkey?
Carmen: [00:10:00] Yeah. Pork, ham, Turkey, Genoa, salami, Swiss cheese, sour pickles.
Fryda: [00:10:04] Wait a second. Carmen. I love the fact that you said who brought the Turkey. Okay. Because the original Cuban sandwich from Tampa does not have Turkey in it.
Carmen: [00:10:13] Oh really? Cause I'm reading that it does. From Sarasota magazine.
Fryda: [00:10:17] Uh, Carmen, I am citing the resolution, the historic Tampa Cuban sandwich does not have Turkey in it.
Carmen: [00:10:22] I love that we're having this debate because this IS the conflict.
Fryda: [00:10:26] We literally got into the argument in the meantime.
Carmen: [00:10:28] I know. This is exactly what the debate has been for a very long time. This is the entire controversy. No one can agree on what the actual ingredients are and by the way, we're over here unpacking all of this and we're two cubanitas from Miami. We do not believe in this salami business. Okay.
Fryda: [00:10:45] Yeah, no, I've never had never in my life had a Cuban sandwich with salami in it, but here I am reading, "be it resolved by the city council of the city of Tampa, Florida, section one," I literally am reading part of a resolution that the city council of Tampa actually listed out all the ingredients. I don't know where the Turkey comes from. That's the thing. Okay. Now I know, Where did the mojo marinated roast pork come from?
Carmen: [00:11:11] Cubans dale!
Fryda: [00:11:12] That came from the Cubans. Some people think, okay. They say the Germans and the Jewish immigrants added the Swiss cheese, pickle, and mustard.
Carmen: [00:11:20] That actually makes sense.
Fryda: [00:11:21] So that's like the story.
Carmen: [00:11:23] And so we have the birth of the Cuban sandwich. So where does Mami come into play? All right. So the Cuban sandwich was made popular by Miami, specifically Cubans in Miami. So it's official that Tampa takes credit for the creation of the Cuban sandwich and they have a list of ingredients which Fryda has read.
And then Miami really put it on the map. Miami has a lot more of a pull with tourism and international communities than Tampa does. And so Miami really made the Cuban sandwich popular.
Fryda: [00:11:53] Let's just say the Cubans in Miami are a little louder than the ones in Tampa. Okay.
Carmen: [00:11:58] That's so true. Very true.
Fryda: [00:11:59] And not, not because they are inherently louder, but because as a community, there are so many of us. Miami became the place where Cubans went to after the revolution.
Carmen: [00:12:09] The Cuban sandwich eventually made it from Tampa down to Miami in the late 1940s, because the Cuban population in Miami began growing just before the revolution in 1959.
Fryda: [00:12:21] Miami gave it a makeover, removing the salami. There's also a couple of things in Miami changed as well. For instance, the Cuban bread, I grew up eating a Cuban sandwich pressed thin on a plancha.
Carmen: [00:12:34] Yeah, me too.
Fryda: [00:12:35] You coat it with butter. You press it on a plancha, on a sandwich press, and out comes like a really crispy flattened bread that also melts the cheese, but that hasn't always been true.
The Cuban sandwich in Tampa was actually not pressed. In the resolution, the Cuban bread made in Tampa was scored with Palmetto Palm fronds.
Carmen: [00:12:58] This rivalry between Miami and Tampa over who takes credit of the Cuban sandwich had been going on so long and so strong that in 2012, the actual matter was put to a vote and it was resolved by popular vote that the city of Tampa, Florida is to take credit for making the Cuban sandwich. And it is specifically called The Historic Tampa Cuban sandwich.
Fryda: [00:13:25] I also read somewhere that they were considering trademarking it at some point, but then were like, this is going to be an issue where everyone is going to have to approach the city of Tampa whenever they make a Cuban sandwich. And they're just like, yo, we can't deal with that. Like that's too much for the City of Tampa.
Carmen: [00:13:42] That's when you shoot yourself in the foot.
Fryda: [00:13:43] So we're just gonna. That's when you're like, Oh geez, we went way too far with this sandwich thing.
Carmen: [00:13:48] Yeah. So people have been asking me for ages, as I've mentioned, where's the best Cuban sandwich. And I have been on the hunt.
I cannot say that the search for the best Cuban sandwich has been exhaustive, but I can definitely say that I have tried a Cuban sandwich that has made my heart sing.
And that Cuban sandwich lives at My Cuban Spot, a ventanita in Gowanus, Brooklyn founded by and started by Chef Louie Estrada, which we had the pleasure of connecting with and interviewing for this episode. Miami people, please don't come for me or come for me. I don't know. I stand by what I say. I think that My Cuban Spot's Cuban sandwich is better than the Cuban sandwiches I've had in Miami .There. I said it. Sorry, not sorry. It's because the Cuban sandwiches in Miami used sliced pork. And look, slice pork is okay. It's good. But when you're using puerco asado in that sandwich, ooh, it really takes it from good to heavenly, okay? Trust me on this one. Thank you, Chef Louie, for showing me the way, seriously.
Fryda: [00:15:00] Hot take. A lot of times when you're the place that does the thing, you check out a little bit. You're like here we are doing the thing. We make a thousand sandwiches a day. We feed it to all our Cuban people and everyone loves it. But like, when you get out of your fish tank and you go to another city, you have to bring it, you know, you can't just do the thing that's been done over and over again in Miami.
Carmen: [00:15:21] That's true. You're representing a community. And you're trying to put forth the best foot possible. Yeah, it's true.
Fryda: [00:15:27] If you include delicious lechon, Cuban pork, that we've talked about so much -- if you put that at the center of a Cuban sandwich, it's going to be, you know, to-die-for, you just have to like use our traditional best tasting ingredients and that's it.
Carmen: [00:15:44] And I’ve got to say I had to laugh. So I was sitting there. Eating the sandwich, having the time of my life. And I look over and I see a bunch of gringos sitting there. They're eating their sandwiches in their Patagonia sweaters and their beanies like chowing down. And I think to myself, wow, what a juxtaposition, you know, however many years ago, back in the 1800s, the people that would have been chowing down in this same capacity would have been so different.
And now here we are in Brooklyn. With a bunch of gringos sitting there in the middle of winter eating a Cuban sandwich. I mean, I don't hate it, but it's just definitely a very interesting musing and a very interesting observation right now.
We're talking about all of these ingredients and all of this controversy, and we decided to go ahead and talk to the guy Louie Estrada. We are joined today by My Cuban Spot's Chef, Founder, and Owner. Welcome Louie. Thank you so much for joining us.
Louie: [00:16:38] Thank you guys for having me.
Carmen: [00:16:39] Cool let's get into it. Can you just quickly tell us what are the absolute must-have ingredients of a proper Cuban sandwich?
Louie: [00:16:50] It's mustard. It's dill pickles. Boiled ham. Swiss cheese, needs to be Swiss. And you need uh pork, okay. However you want to cook that as long as it's pork. You need good Cuban bread. And I say good Cuban bread because there's bad Cuban bread out there. So you need good Cuban bread and butter, and a lot of love. Can I elevate a Cuban sandwich and try to do 10 different things with it, with an aioli and this and that and a different kind of ham and different kinds of cheese? Absolutely. But then it's no longer a Cuban sandwich. This is a personal opinion. A Cuban is a Cuban, that's it? You can make your own pickles. That's fine. You can make your own ham, like this place a good friend of mine Sanguich does. So the difference with mine is just the shredded pork, but the shredded pork is something that people use on pan con lechon since the start of time. Shredded pork packs in more flavor. Cooking times are different between sliced pork and shredded report. For sliced pork, you got to cook it higher temp at a lower time, right? So you might be cooking it at 350 four to five hours. Whereas this is really low and slow. So it's 250, eight to fifteen hours. I cook mine for fifteen. I came up with a method of how do I do this in this tiny little shop and get away with it. I can't cook it during the day and then re-cook tomorrow. It's too much work. So I started cooking it at night before we left. Thank God that within the first couple days we figured it out. It's still gonna fall off the bone at seven, eight, nine, ten. But ours is for fifteen. It's a traditional Cuban to me because the recipe is still the same.
I didn't reinvent the wheel. It's people's mojos that change. Whether it's the citrus or the salt or the cumin. That's what changes for different chefs. People like more acidity in their mojo. I created a consistency with my mojo. When I get into competitions, that's what they call it, a traditional Cuban.
We grew up on bland Cuban sandwiches. Were they good to us? Yeah, they were delicious, but they were colder because the cold cuts in the center is still a little cold, but el pan is nice and warm. So I wanted the whole bite to be like that nice, warm texture. And then finished off with the pork. So that's how that all came about.
Carmen: [00:19:07] I loved it. And I'm out here saying that I actually think it's better than what I have been searching for.
Louie: [00:19:12] Thank you. Because I agree. I mean, listen, the way I cook in general is something that makes you close your eyes and takes you back. It's nostalgic, even when people that don't know about the culture. It takes you somewhere, right? So you don't have to be a part of the Cuban culture for food to take you somewhere.
At the end of the day, I need people to taste Cuba. I needed people to taste Miami and it wasn't successful anywhere outside of Florida that I tried. So the Cuban sandwich for me was like, as simple as, that you bite into it and it took you to your grandmother's house right after school, or it took you, or it took me to Islas, when I would just grab Cuban sandwiches out the window, or took me to Tamiami park when I would have pan con lechon after we played a game and did la caja china.
So all these things, especially the sandwich was, you know, something that came from my childhood. The reason why Cuban sandwiches are popular is because it's easy to read on a menu. An American that speaks nothing of Spanish is going to sit there and be like, "oh, the Cuban sandwich. Well, I know that. So I'm going to have a Cuban sandwich." And then, you know, I was in the bar scene and restaurant scene for a long time. And that's, you know what started to really kickstart my passion. I had already cooked long before I wasn't a chef. I didn't go to culinary school. I could cook. My dad's a bad-ass in the kitchen. And I would always like watch what my dad and my grandparents were doing. I went from bartending in restaurants to learning the ins and outs, you know, from the back to the front, from the kitchen to the dish-washing to everything.
I was inspired at one point to open a cafe slash speakeasy bar. But when I looked at the location, I said, there's no bar, but I can do a bad-ass ventanita right here, there was already a window there. And I said, give me the papers. I know I had the bar vision, but I didn't get it. And I said, you know what, it's time to shake things up because people don't know about this food.
So I had three months to like really get back into the kitchen, still while I was working at the bar and kind of just perfect all the recipes. Not too many opportunities in New York will come through that often.
Fryda: [00:21:18] No, let's do the lightning round. All right.
Louie: [00:21:20] All right. I love a good lightning round.
Fryda: [00:21:21] So this is on the Cuban sandwich: plancha or no plancha?
Louie: [00:21:25] Both. I use a flat press where I use weights on it and I flip it so it's equal on both sides, but during my, my events, I do use plancha. If you use plancha, make sure it's at the right temp and that you're pressing it enough for the cheese to melt inside.
Fryda: [00:21:37] Mm, of course. Yeah. That's so important. Okay. Pastelito de queso or pastelito de guayaba?
Louie: [00:21:42] Woooooo. Pastelito de queso y guayaba.
Carmen: [00:21:46] Yessss.
Fryda: [00:21:46] Yesss.
Carmen: [00:21:46] Picadillo with raisins or no raisins?
Louie: [00:21:48] Woo. You guys are good. When I was growing up, I had raisins once a week maybe no raisons another week or so only because some kids didn't like it, some kids wanted it. So I am personally going to go without raisins.
Carmen: [00:22:00] Okay okay.
Fryda: [00:22:01] Alright. Alright.
Louie: [00:22:02] It doesn't mean that it should be made without! I'm going back to my childhood. I used to pick them off. But I love the flavors with raisin. That's why I can say either or.
Fryda: [00:22:10] No, I'm the same. I definitely used to pick them off as a kid. It is.
Louie: [00:22:14] I love them now.
Fryda: [00:22:15] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I love it. Now. It adds a lot of flavor.
Louie: [00:22:17] But as a kid my, my plate would like be empty and then you have like 20 raisins on the side.
Fryda: [00:22:21] A line of raisins just yeah. On the side.
Louie: [00:22:23] But, now I love em. If I was cooking for my grandparents. I would cook it traditionally with raisins. So yeah.
Fryda: [00:22:29] Sweet sweet. So, un cortadito, café con leche, o colada?
Louie: [00:22:33] Colada. Easy.
Carmen: [00:22:35] Miami or Ybor.
Louie: [00:22:36] Miami!
Fryda: [00:22:38] Bacardi or Havana rum?
Louie: [00:22:40] Havana. I'm Havana Club die-hard.
Carmen: [00:22:43] I'm the same. I'm the same.
Louie: [00:22:45] If I'm going nostalgic, I'm going Havana Club Seven Year.
Fryda: [00:22:48] Yeah. yeah.
Carmen: [00:22:49] Pan con bistec or media noche?
Louie: [00:22:51] Pan con bistec.
Fryda: [00:22:52] Pitbull or Gente de Zona?
Louie: [00:22:54] Pitbull.
Carmen: [00:22:55] Hialeah or Little Havana?
Louie: [00:22:56] Little Havana! Hands down! Sorry for the Hialeah peeps out there!
Fryda: [00:23:05] Calle Ocho or Ocean drive?
Louie: [00:23:08] Wow. Can I go 50/50? Little Havana is my life but I did a lot of years in Ocean Drive. All right, let's go uh, Calle Ocho.
Fryda: [00:23:17] All right.
Louie: [00:23:18] And I'm just going to say Domino Park.
Fryda: [00:23:20] Tostones or platanito maduro?
Louie: [00:23:23] Platanito maduro.
Fryda: [00:23:24] End with Islas Canarias or Versailles?
Louie: [00:23:26] Guys, this isn't even a question,
Fryda: [00:23:30] I know this is the trick question.
Louie: [00:23:32] And I need to say that. Versailles? Listen,
Carmen: [00:23:33] I agree.
Fryda: [00:23:33] This is a trick question.
Louie: [00:23:34] I understand the nostalgia. But Islas Canarias, hands down. Hands down.
Fryda: [00:23:41] Actually, if we would have asked this first and you would have answered Versailles is we would have just stopped the interview.