Taste of Tampa: The Cuban Sandwich

| By Sarah Jester

This year, NGLCC's 2019 International Business and Leadership Conference takes us to Tampa Bay, Florida, where members of the LGBT business community will spend a week networking, attending workshops, and engaging with each other to create new opportunities for LGBT business owners. The City of Tampa is as lively and diverse as the Conference itself and serves as proof that incredible things can happen when different groups of people build something together. 

Strangely enough, one of the strongest testaments to the City of Tampa's incredible diversity is the city's official sandwich: the Cuban. Despite its name and decidedly Cuban roots, the Cuban sandwich was born in Tampa and was named the official sandwich of Tampa in 2012. However, the origin of the sandwich far predates its official adoption by the city in the early 1900s. At the time, Tampa’s Ybor City was the cigar capital of the world and was home to thousands of immigrants from the nearby island of Cuba, as well as Spanish, Italian, German, and Jewish immigrants. As each group of immigrants brought their cultures and customs with them to Florida, they also contributed unique culinary traditions and flavors to the local cuisine.

The Cuban sandwich, which served as lunch for many of these immigrants working in the cigar industry in the 1900s, is a blend of each of these culinary traditions. The original Tampa version contains thinly sliced ham, which can be traced back to Spain; the salami brought by Italian immigrants, the classic Jewish deli cheese, mustard, and pickles; and the pork and toasted bread from Cuba. The result is a blend of cultures and flavors distinct to the Tampa Bay area.

As with many regional signature dishes, the "true" contents of a Cuban sandwich are hotly debated from city to city. If you’re from Miami, chances are that salami will never touch your Cuban. Other cities and individual delis offer their own unique takes on the classic Cuban sandwich leading to many regional favorites and new classic combinations. Despite the (mostly) friendly squabbles over what it contains, this sandwich has earned the nickname “sandwich of unity" for the important place it holds in Tampa Bay's immigrant history, and with ingredients hailing from all over the world, the Cuban represents a delicious product of diversity and collaboration.

This post is part of our Taste of Tampa series leading up to our 2019 International Business & Leadership Conference taking place in Tampa Bay, Florida from August 13-16. Register for the Conference here. Special thanks to Visit Tampa Bay for their support.