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Calle Ocho Carnival Miami & The Cuban Sandwich Smackdown

Tasty Tuesday– Cuban Sandwich Month at the Third Annual Miami Cuban Sandwich Smackdown in  Miami Florida

Have a food bucket list? Put this hootenanny on your list.

As far as I can remember, I had my first Cuban sandwich in the Tampa area at a place called The Floridian Restaurant of Indian Shores; I absolutely loved it.  Smitten.

Cuban Food in Florida

The past few years, I have been spending more time in the Miami area and always make my pilgrimage to the Little Havana neighborhood.  I have written about some of my visits to the Little Havana Restaurants. Little Havana Chowdown-A Tasty Tuesday Megabite

Little Havana is a neighborhood in Miami that since the 1960’s became home to many Cuban refugees and exiles. More than a neighborhood, it became the political, cultural and social center for Cuban Americans.

Calle Ocho or Eighth Street has been the heartbeat of this community.  In 2015 this area was included in the National Historic Trust for Preservation as one of 11 endangered places, In 2017, this trust named it as a National Treasure.

The Cuban Sandwich Debate

Recently, I learned that there is a strong debate or “Smackdown” between two cities and two neighborhoods on the origin of this Cuban sandwich. Both cities with Cuban heritage history, the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa and the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami make this claim.

Two other disagreements are over the use of salami (Tampa) and a slight variation in the bread.    Historian Loy Glenn Westfall states that “the sandwich was “born in Cuba and educated in Key West.” [1]  Agreed.

Fighting Words and Smackdown

“The Great Cuban Sandwich Debate” was described in a short, easy to understand piece on the Today Show in 2012. The story was surrounding a time when the “Tampa Cubano” became the official sandwich of Tampa and Ybor City,  held the first official Cuban Sandwich Festival.  Of course, this inflamed the community in Miami.

(The link to the story and a recipe from Versailles Restaurant-my favorite.  The Great Cuban Sandwich Debate)

Miami answered in 2014 with the Miami Cuban Sandwich Smackdown.  This event takes place during the largest Latin cultural celebration, Carnaval Miami.   The 2017 events took place in February and March and end with the biggest street party, the 40th Annual Calle Ocho Festival. It’s kind of a big deal and you can learn more about the event here.  Carnival Miami 2017

The Party on Calle Ocho

 The Kiwanis Club welcomes visitors from all over the world to Calle Ocho where visitors numbered 1-1.5 million.  NBD.   On the streets, there is music stages on every block, dancing, and conga lines, food, vendors, children’s areas and more food.

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Cuban Music Stages- Siente el Sabor

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Stages of Calle Ocho

Off on a quiet-ish corner of this celebration were several food trucks and tents that bring the competitive forces of Restaurants and Chefs to compete for the best traditional and non-Traditional Cuban Sandwich of 2017.

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Third Annual Miami Cuban Sandwich Smackdown

The Traditional Cuban Sandwich

A.K.A. The Mixto, The Cuban, The Cubano, The Cuban Pressed Sandwich. 

So just what is a Cuban Sandwich?  Some call it a  version of a ham and cheese sandwich.  I can’t say the same.

The Bread– One of my favorite bread’s on this earth.  It has a super crispy exterior with a light fluffy interior that has a bit of a sweet flavor somewhat like a pastry or a croissant.  It looks a bit like French Bread but more rectangular in shape,  and to me, has a different taste and texture.  Oh, and it’s made with lard which is probably why this bread tastes so amazing.  it is served at breakfast in lieu of toast and it’s pretty difficult to not eat the entire loaf served warm and slathered in real butter.  It HAS to be eaten fresh.

 Oh, and it’s made with lard, which is probably why this bread tastes so amazing.  It is served at breakfast in lieu of toast and it is then called Cuban Toast.   It HAS to be eaten fresh but it’s pretty difficult to not eat the entire loaf served warm and slathered in real butter.

Between the bread- Ham, mojo or Cuban seasoned roasted pork,  (which is said to give this sandwich its’ exotic and mysterious personality,) imported Swiss cheese, three sandwich pickles, and yellow mustard.  The ratio of meat to cheese is critically important.  If there was salami, it would the Tampa version of the Cuban.

The Method-Grilled on a press called a plancha, the sandwich bread becomes dense. Of course, before this sandwich even meets the plancha, it is generously buttered.  It is best-placed ham side up so that the pork flavor is not changed, the sandwich is then put together and pressed until the bread becomes light golden brown.  Then cut at a 45-degree angle.

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Cuban press of Sergio’s

As I made my way towards the competition tent, there were several vendors selling the sandwiches and other foods.  Pork is a staple in Cuba.

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Cuban food where pork is King

First stop

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Vendors with Cuban Sandwiches on Calle Ocho

Some are served with fries, some served alone and sometimes with shoestring potatoes.

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The Cuban

2016 Champion 1st Place BEST Cuban Sandwich pictured above was from The Cuban Press of Miami.

A close up of my personal favorite of the day-The Traditional Cuban from Sergio’s.  This is only 1/4 of a sandwich so that the width of the bread and the inside ingredients are shown.  The were available at $4.00 per half which was a great way to try a few.

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1/4 of a Cuban sandwich.

 Sergio’s

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Sergio’s display of accolades

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The Cuban Sandwich Smackdown-Batidos

Many of the vendors had lots of colors.

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Benitez colorful booth

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The Cuban Guys and some of the colorful dancers

The Competition tent.

There were V.I.P. Celebrity Judges.  For a ticketed fee, you are able to mingle with the judges and taste the different sandwiches, partake in beverage and get some shade.

 

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The Cuban Sandwich Smackdown Judging area and VIP Tent

My favorite was the traditional sandwich from Sergios.  Sergio’s won for their nontraditional sandwich that had additions of plantains and aioli sauce.  A list of the winners can be seen on this link. Winners of the 2017 Cuban Smackdown

I loved seeing this and tasting some of the best Cuban Sandwiches. However.

Calle Ocho was lined with International Food that is mainly made from scratch.  There were so many good foods.  Let me show you a few and something else that I fell in love with.

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Borinquena Browsing food of Calle Ocho

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Calle Ocho vendors

Those tamales were muy Bueno.  I love how the handheld fan made it into my photo.

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Calle Ocho vendors Tamales, pork, rice, chicken

On the photo below you can see the round sandwich that many vendors were selling.  The sandwich is called an Arepa.  Consisting of two corn pancake layers with melted cheese. Yummy!

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Arepas

Who wouldn’t love these colors?

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Fresh and crisp Calle Ocho Latin Festival Salsas and condiments

And then, this happened and rocked my world

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Elotes Roasted Corn Sign

Elotes is corn on the cob.  A popular Mexican street food, it is either boiled or grilled in the husk and slathered with a cheesy sauce that consists of;  mayonnaise, sour cream or Mexican crema, finely crumbled cotija or feta cheese, plus more for serving, and sprinkled with ancho or guajillo chili powder for a kick.  I can’t even.

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Corn-on-the-cob  Elotes  

There were Cuban pastries.

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Cuban desserts

colorful deserts

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Colorful International Foods and sweets

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Colorful desserts, banana chips, and clothing

And I loved everything about this food stop.  I might even get to the Tampa area for their art and Cuban Sandwich Festival in 2018.

MEGatips:

  1. Expect to park several blocks away.  Many homeowners offer their yard area for parking for a fee.
  2. Wear sunscreen as you will be out in the sun.
  3. Arrive with hunger and/or visit with friends so that you may share all of these fantastic latin foods.
  4. This is a big city with a lot of people.  There was a large police presence but plan on using big city street safety habits.
  5. Fan of the Cuban Sandwich, look for events in 2018.
  6. My personal favorite “Cuban” is still The Versailles Restaurant located in Little Havana.  Link to sandwich making. Cuban Sandwich at The Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, Miami Florida
  7. I really the Tampa version at The Floridian in Treasure Island Florida.
  8. Visit Calle Ocho in Little Havana (8th street) any time of the year for some mighty fine Cuban foods.
  9. Experiment with foods from other cultures and share with your neighbors.

 

  1. Wikipedia Cuban Sandwich. Miami Herald 8,15,2010

 

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