The Cuban Sandwich – How to Spot a Fraud!!

December 14, 2010

Anyone who has tasted a Cuban sandwich knows that there is simply no greater sandwich on the planet. That Cuban bread, soft on the inside, and forming a crisp, hot-pressed shell around stacks of ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese inspires a heavenly taste that begs a question that has been debated for over a hundred years: what makes the Cuban sandwich taste so divine, is it the bread, or the cheese-meat combo?

Certainly anyone who has eaten an authentic Cuban from those small sandwich cafes like La Ideal in West Tampa, or La Tropicana in Ybor City, Florida knows that few sandwiches compare in taste, zing, pizzazz, and all-around oomph. Some keep it simple: ham, pork, Swiss, maybe some pickles and some mustard and mayonnaise. Other Cuban sandwich artisans include salami, lettuce and tomato. I even encountered one topped with all of the preceding, plus jalapeño and sliced avocado.

Like high-quality cigars, there are varying degrees of quality and complexity to your Cuban sandwich. Some cook the meat right in front of you while others serve them cold, or wrap them in white paper for bliss later on. From the frozen Cubans found in ethnic grocery stores to the hot, fresh stackers served in Miami restaurants, once you taste a true Cuban sandwich, great meals fade in comparison.

Those of you who have enjoyed the Cuban know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve never experienced the sandwich, then you’re just going to have to trust us on this. The real thing looks something like these:


Columbia Restaurant, Ybor City

Columbia Restaurant, Ybor City

Brocato's, Tampa, with Deviled Crab

Brocato's, Tampa, with Deviled Crab

From King Corona, courtesy Cigar Weekly

From King Corona, courtesy Cigar Weekly

The Cuban sandwich holds a sacred place in my heart. When I spotted my first fake-Cuban I was alerted to a startling trend that has started to poison the holy sandwich industry: Cuban sandwich knock-offs.

These things seem to be popping up everywhere. Like Puma sportswear from Thailand that’s actually spelled “Pama,” or stereo speakers by “Panasaonic,” or the famous dollar store I-Fan (looks like an I-Pod but it’s really a fan!), the culinary world has also been tainted by fraud and cheap knockoffs. The first time I encountered one of these substandard copycats was in the cafeteria of the banking operations center where I thankfully no longer work – in Cincinnati, Ohio mind you! Yes, a corporate cafeteria actually attempted to pass a cold ham and Swiss sandwich, served on a Kaiser roll, as an authentic Cuban sandwich. To add insult to injury, I saw my coworkers inspecting the cold Kaiser-roll Cuban imposter sitting in the display case and making such frightening comments like, “Looks like a cold ham and Swiss sandwich served on a Kaiser roll.” And the cafeteria actually pulled it off. People bought and ate the sandwich and went to bed thinking that a Cuban sandwich was in their tummy, and they couldn’t help it because in this day and age, it’s hard to spot a fake.

I once joined a group of coworkers at the Cheesecake Factory, where one of my friends pointed out a Cuban sandwich on the menu. Knowing it wouldn’t be close to the real thing, I convinced her to order it so I could inspect the phony up-close (I would never subject myself to such a daring experiment!) When it arrived, it looked similar to the cafeteria Cuban I knew from the bank. Ham, pork and Swiss served on a bun, but this time it was served with a side of French fries. She thought it was great, and I shuddered. It was like she had been given a brass ring with a cubic zirconium stone and told it was a 3-carat diamond. Such a shame. I didn’t want to ruin her lunch, so I waited until the next day to tell her the bad news.

I won’t even go into the monstrosity that is Subway’s Cuban Pulled Pork sub, served your way with chips and a drink.

When these phony Cubans are consumed by innocents, people walk away thinking, “Huh, that Cuban sandwich filled me up, but it was nothing special.” For the rest of their lives, these victims of Cuban fakery may never taste an authentic Cuban because a been-there-done-that mentality cripples them into thinking of Cubans as nothing more than ham on Swiss with a catchy-name. These copycat Cubans give real Cuban sandwiches a bad name!!

Be aware, consumers and lovers of fine cuisine. I hate to think of you kicking back with your I-Fan, your brand new Pamas, and a long-distance calling card you bought from a street vendor that will never work while you eat a cold Cube-In Sandwich. Do your research, know your food and don’t get ripped off by the phonies!!

I present to you, some of the world’s best fake Cubans:

From some bar in Northern Minnesota

These must be from the Olive Garden

Cute, but not worthy of the name

You can't just use any bread


Mark McGinty is the award winning author of The Cigar Maker and Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy. His work has appeared in Cigar City Magazine and La Gaceta.

Unit 731 – Chapter 16

December 3, 2010

I’m continuing to post snippets from my forthcoming novel (but probably a novella) called Unit 731, a World War II thriller. This is very rough – very, very rough. But it’s on paper and right now, that’s all that matters.


Chapter 16

I swerved around one curve, then another. My spotty vision blurred the street and I leaned forward in the seat, clutching the wheel with both hands to better control the vehicle. I drove faster than I ever had and as the truck rounded a bend, it nearly toppled over. Tires squealed and the truck seesawed from one side to the other. I backed off the gas pedal to slow down and regain control as a pair of jeeps appeared in the rear view mirror, rounding the curve where I nearly rolled my truck, pursuing me as a snake of dust crawled into the air behind them.

Through a residential neighborhood we sped, now miles from the site of the bombing. The homes here were pristine, but the threat of war was apparent in the roadside bomb shelters and foot soldiers. I raced through a small crowd of pedestrians who parted before me like clouds after a storm. The jeeps followed, closing the gap.

The neighborhood thinned of houses and soon I drove through a sea of trees, then the trees grew shorter and shorter until my truck raced through a open field. The road became dirt, then rocks, and disappeared completely as I sped at top speed directly towards the flowing current of a dark, muddy river. The brakes were of no use as the truck smashed into a hard wall of water.

For months I would have a bruise across my chest from where I was thrown into the steering wheel. Water began to flood the truck from the floor, the windows, from everywhere. I was able to push the door open and slide to safety as the truck sank and became consumed by the river. But my good fortune lasted only moments as tires from the two Army jeeps soon skidded to a halt on the gravel road above me.

I plunged my head below the surface and let the current whisk my weary body downstream. I noticed right away the water tasted like algae and dirt, the way a river should taste – absent was the odor of industrial death. No dead fish floated along this surface, it smelled of wet logs instead of ash and atomic soot.

As I came up for air, a pair of projectiles splashed before me with a zing. Then a crack, a rifle’s report, as shots were fired towards me. I ducked under the water again and swam with the current. Bullets sailed over my head as their rifles popped and cracked behind me.

“Kiyoshi!” I heard Masaru’s voice call, but it was muffled by water splashing all around me. I kicked and clawed at the river, the cool, clean water soothed by burns and washed the dirt and dust from my eyes. More shouting and gunfire from the riverbank but it grew more and more distant as the rush of the water became the only sound.

I thought of my wife in Nagasaki, and my child. I wanted to get a message to them, to let them know I was coming, and to be ready to leave the islands forever. But stuck in this river, with my fellow soldiers pursuing me along the riverbank, all I could do was keep my head submerged and move with the current. Soon the river grew wider, the current eased and I moved towards the middle of the stream, then crossed it completely and reached the shore on the other side. I looked back the direction I had come – my truck, the landing where I had crashed, Masaru and the soldiers who had given chase, where nowhere to be seen.

I drew myself from the muddy water and crawled to the rocky shore, hiding in the weeds to catch my breath. Then shouldering my great burden, I set off, seeking a path that would deliver me from this island, and bring me home to Nagasaki.