Although Philippines were under the Spanish colonization for over 300 years, I don’t remember encountering Hispanic ethnicity in my country. Besides the textbooks, which familiarize our students of the many contributions and influences of Spain to the Philippine culture, I can’t recall a single instance (besides when I was still working at the embassy and had to work during diplomatic receptions) seeing an active Hispanic community or organization around. It was when I moved here in the US when I met many colleagues at work of Hispanic decent. It was my friendship with some of them that has made me curious and interested to know more about their way of life, particularly their language, music, and food. Thus, when I was invited to attend the Cuban Sandwich Festival in Ybor City this weekend, I immediately said yes.
Cuban Americans are said to be the third-largest Hispanic group in the United States, and also the largest group of Hispanics of European ancestry. Since many of them reside in Florida, it is not surprising to see a lot of Cuban restaurants around the city. Among its commonly served cuisine for lunch and dinner is the Cuban sandwich, which is also the pride of its people.
My first encounter of the Cuban sandwich was when I dined with my friend Nan at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. Made of ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami on pressed Cuban bread, I thought that although it looks like any ordinary sandwiches, its taste is pretty scrumptious.
I guess my memory of my first experience of the Cuban sandwich was what made me feel excited about the Cuban Sandwich Festival. There were 15 entries to the competitions, and many of them were prepared at the venue itself. So while I was waiting for the final announcement of winners, I gave myself a treat and jumped at the opportunity to watch the sandwich chefs prepare their entries. It was pretty interesting! With the pulsating sound of Latino music playing in the background; sight of some beautiful TV celebrities roaming around to cover the competition; and appreciative oohs and aahs from the judges around the table, I must say the ocassion was indeed a feast of the senses.
Looking for a Cuban sandwich? Check these out:
Alessi Bakery, Mata Monchies, Mr. Empanada, La Teresita, Stone Soup Company, Gaspars Grotto, Frank & Subs, Cacciatore Brothers, Danny’s All American Grill, Café Msaryktown, Silver Ring Café, Cuban Guys, NY Café, Ofelia’s, The Floridian.