Cuban sandwich. Photo: Hellmann's.
In Havana 20 years ago, there was no talk of Cuban sandwiches. You arrived at an establishment and ordered a sandwich to dry, and the luncheon maker already knew that between two tapas of bread he had to place slices of cooked and smoked leg ham and roasted leg with juice. Also a mortadella lasquita and another cheese, preferably gruyere, as well as a sweet and sour pickled pickle. Very dry Serrano ham could also be used. One of the bread tops was smeared with butter and the other with soft, pasty American mustard. Bread was essential. It was the so-called water bread, soft and silky, which melted in the mouth.
Other sandwiches if they had to be named. In truth, they were less in demand. It was necessary to specify whether what was wanted was a vegetable or tuna sandwich. In another, roast beef predominated. And there was the so-called Creole sandwich that was composed of slices of pork leg, ham, cheese and mayonnaise that were completed with lettuce leaves and tomato wheels, ingredients those last two, which are not included in the sandwich called Cuban, even if it is said that yes in cafes and restaurants today.
A reader who signs as Katar his email of June 25, asks me to talk about that delight of popular gastronomy that is the Cuban sandwich that, like the fried sandwich, has nothing to do with the uniform and standardized flavor of fast food products.
There were in Havana of the 50s of the last century four or five establishments that were among the first places if that entrepán was concerned.
They were the OK bar, on the corner of Zanja and Belascoaín; the Encanto bar, on the Galiano road, near the shop of that name; the café El Siglo XX, in Belascoaín and Neptuno, and Paco's winery (it was called, in reality, La Lonja, at 23 corner to 8, in El Vedado, until Paco decided to set up shop in the Niagara cafeteria, in Santa Catalina and Juan Delgado, in Santos Suarez). A novelty at the time was the special sauce flavored with chorizo that was added to the sandwich in the coffee El Cedro del Líbano, in Artemisa.
In the years 60-70 took the primacy sandwiches of El Asia, on the outskirts of the whereabouts of the Viper. El Cangrejito, in Porvenir and C, in Lawton, La Asunción, in Porvenir and Luyanó, and El Carmelo, in Calzada and D. Of all, the palm corresponded to those of La Pelota, in 23 and 12, in El Vedado, and those of La Alborada, cafeteria in the basement of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where the Cuban sandwich is still offered, with great quality, and another of ham and cheese, equally attendable.
Knife and magic
Do not think alone, however, of large gastronomic establishments. The sandwiches were also prepared, and very good, in any corner, in wooden and glass stalls, similar to those of the fried ones and that, although they did not move from the space where they were installed, had wheels in order to simulate that they did, a way to avoid or reduce taxes. In the bars, a snowy glass window in which the word Lunch was engraved was the exclusive and privileged grounds of the luncheon.
Wherever he served—bar, café, corner stand...—a good luncheman was an artist who, with grace, moved and clashed his knives in the air to catch the rhythm and placed on a bread lid the ingredients he worked on a piece of wood. It was quite a ritual. In the end, he cut the bread in the middle, in an oblique way that facilitated the bite and with what formed two wedges that he arranged with the cuts out so that the client appreciated what they imprisoned. Everything was based on knife and magic, without the use of the electric lasqueradora or the toaster, artifacts that arrived later. There were sandwiches of all prices, from 20 cents to a peso and more, and they were of such proportion that many preferred to share them or save a half for later. Already in the 60s, the sandwich came to cost a peso with 20 cents. If it was accompanied by a beer, it was two closed pesos, the same in El Cangrejito as in El Carmelo or La Alborada. The queues were huge in any of them; One per head was offered. If you wanted more, it was necessary to queue again.
Sandwich's younger sister is midnight. A bite made with the same components of the Cuban sandwich, but lighter and smaller; Components that are placed between two tops of bread tips, soft and sweet. Of the family is also Helena Ruz, entrepán that combines in its composition roast turkey, cream cheese and strawberry jam. It was a highly sought-after dish in El Carmelo, in Calzada, where it was born, and which has resurfaced in cafeterias in the non-state sector.
The Battleship was also in high demand in El Carmelo. It was a snack that was made with ham paste and cream cheese.
Unlike the fried one, which arrived in Miami in 1961, the so-called Cuban sandwich arrived early in Florida. It happened in 1905, but not to Miami, but to the Columbia café in the Cuban community of Ibor City, in Tampa. Only the one made in Tampa differs from the one in Miami by the salami flakes that are added to its components. Ingredient that confronted both localities when Tampa wanted to declare the Cuban sandwich official.
In the opinion of the chronicler, Cuban sandwich is a denomination of origin. And as such we must respect that sandwich that is the pinnacle and pride of our fast and popular gastronomy.