I doubt there are many things in life as good as a really good sandwich. It’s a simple concept: two slices of bread with filling in the middle. Oh, but it’s so much more than that. And when it’s done right, nothing comes close.
One of the best things about living in Miami is the food. The Cuban food to be exact.
And Miami chefs have taken the simple concept of a sandwich and turned it into a masterpiece, thanks to a huge dose of Cuban flair.
Only, it’s become more than a sandwich.
You think I’m talking about the famous Cuban sandwich, right? Yes, and no!
Techincally, Tampa’s the home of the Cuban sandwich, but in Miami, we also have the Medianoche sandwich.
To the untrained eye, they’re the same thing but to a native like me, it’s not confusing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll devour either. Whichever one you want to put in front of me, that thing’ll be gone pretty darned quickly!
But now it’s become an informal contest, of sorts. A friendly rivalry between the two cities. A Tale of Two Sandwiches (cue rattlesnake sounds and meaningful eyebrow-raising).
What’s it going to be? You have to pick a side…
Why the Two Types of Sandwiches?
Where the sandwich truly originated, nobody knows for sure. Over a century ago, it was easy for workers to sail over the Florida Strait from Cuba and with them they brought their food.
It’s thought that immigrant workers in the sugar mills and cigar factories in Florida needed a staple food to eat at lunch. They took the simple ham-and-cheese staple and embellished it.
So, Cuban Sandwich vs. Medianoche Sandwich, What’s the Difference?
As far as the filling goes, there’s no difference at all. Both sandwiches contain the following:
• Roast Pork
• Swiss Cheese
And we’re not just talking a slice of each, either. No, you gotta load that baby up before she goes onto the grill.
This is the stuff of Havana legend. No skimping on the meat. Lay the groundwork with the mustard, follow it up with a few slices of the holiest of holey cheese, the Swiss. Then introduce the pig.
The roasted pork is smoky and rich, and the glazed ham adds a hint of sweetness. The pickles lie on the top for crunch. Don’t be shy with those crunchy pickles.
Drizzle some extra mustard, and there you have it. You can put a little mayo on there if you like, but it’s optional.
I haven’t explained the most important part, the defining ingredient, the one thing that separates the Cuban from the Medianoche.
Lean close. I’m only going to yell this once.
It’s All About the Bread, My Friend.
That’s right. Without the bread, even Castro himself would struggle to know if he was eating a Cuban sandwich or a Medianoche sandwich.
The bread is the signature ingredient. It shows your sandwich allegiance.
Cuban bread is crusty, crispy. It’s the kind that you want to eat when it’s perfectly fresh. It’s got that Cuban crunch.
It usually comes in a long slim loaf, about twelve inches, sliced down the middle and given a little butter or olive oil before it goes on the grill.
And if that’s your bag, then that’s cool.
But the Medianoche tells you to keep your oil. It laughs at any suggestion of needing softening.
Because the Medianoche is already a softer sandwich, because it uses a softer bread.
It’s almost challah and close to brioche. Soft and sweet, it’s made with eggs, giving the bread a richer flavor.
‘Medianoche’ literally translates as ‘midnight.’ In Havana, it’s the sandwich served around that time, in and outside nightclubs. The need for a Medianoche hits as the clock strikes twelve, and doesn’t disappoint.
I’ve Heard of Other Ingredients, Too.
You probably have. Sometimes, sheer perfection just isn’t enough for some people.
All around Florida, you’ll find variations of the Cuban/Medianoche sandwich. Some Tampa restaurants use salami as well as pork and glazed ham, and this comes from the Italian influence in their city.
In Key West, they even put in lettuce and tomatoes, but we don’t like to talk about that too much.
You won’t need to travel that far. Anyone who truly knows their Cuban sandwich knows that Miami, specifically Little Havana, is the heartland of the world’s greatest sandwich.
I Want One Now.
So Where Do I Go?
You have many great options when it comes to selecting where to buy your sandwich.
The good news is that when you’re in Miami, you’re already in the best place for either the Cuban or the Medianoche. There’s no greater place than Little Havana for your late-night snack.
A great choice is Versailles Restaurant Cuban Cuisine. It’s at 3555 Southwest 8th Street, and it’s open until 2.30am, which makes it the perfect choice if you want to eat a little later, Havana-style.
But if you don’t want to leave the house then it’s fine, because Versailles Restuarant Cuban Cuisine delivers, too.
In fact you’ll be spoiled for choice anywhere along Southwest 8th Street.
At 6797 there’s Sarussi Cafeteria and Restaurant, which is just as good if not better. The place is simple and homely, a no-frills restaurant.
At 1510 you have El Exqisito, which has the tagline “Direct from Grandmother’s Kitchen!” It’s been open for over forty years, and with good reason.
And Which One Do I Go For?
Even in Miami, we won’t hold it against you if you choose to go for the Cuban sandwich over the Medianoche sandwich.
We appreciate that you might just want a little extra crunch, or you might not like a sweeter bread.
After all, this business over the best way to serve delicious pork is our beef to worry about.
All you have to do is come down to Little Havana and pick.
Even then, it’s won’t be an easy decision when you’re forced to choose between the Cuban and the Medianoche.
But I guess there’s only one way to settle it: get both, and let us know your favorite!
Now, what’s for dessert? There are so many to choose from, read, Azúcar! 16 Traditional Cuban Desserts.
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