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Tasty Traditions: The REAL Cuban

Updated on October 5, 2014
A Cuban sandwich  (Photo by Cheryl Rogers)
A Cuban sandwich (Photo by Cheryl Rogers)

My Mom Memorized Ingredients of Cuban Sandwich

When my mom was five years old, she ate Cuban sandwiches from Havana's Cuatro Caminos (Four Corners), picking them apart and eating them layer by layer. The ingredients remained indelibly etched in her mind...

The fact is the sandwiches we call Cubans today just aren't the same. This Hubpage is about setting the record straight about what is -- and what isn't -- an authentic Cuban sandwich. I also share some other traditional Cuban foods.

Cuatro Caminos, La Habana, Cuba

Tasty Traditions: the REAL Cuban

Today our family lives in Florida -- a state where Cuban and American cultures are meshed, a state where Miami reigns as a Cuban capital in exile, sort of.

Cuban influence is diminished beyond Miami, but even where I live, in Tampa, it is easy to find arroz con pollo (chicken with yellow rice), frijoles negros (black beans) and, of course, un Cubano, a Cuban sandwich.

Instead of pure Spanish, many speak Spanglish, a mix of Spanish and English, with the primary language being the one they know best -- whichever one that is.

Since the dawn of Fidel Castro's rule in Cuba, and the exodus of Cuban refugees to the United States, Cuban culture here has adapted itself to an American lifestyle -- with new traditions born to suit a new country.

In Tampa, where the Cuban influences preceeded Castro, we find Cuban sandwiches in many restaurants and delis. But it has been adapted to suit the American, or Americanized, palate.

The Cubans (sandwiches, I mean) come with different names and ingredients. We can find lots of "BEST" Cuban sandwiches, but also some "authentic," "traditional," "American" and "Turkey" Cubans.

To be honest, most Cubans are more like glorified ham and cheese sandwiches on Cuban bread...

The REAL Cuban, for the record, does NOT have lettuce, tomato, or mayonnaise. It does have mortadella, something many restaurants don't have.

My mom wanted to set the record straight, so here is her recipe.


Cuban sandwich bread









Cut bread into a sandwich portion and split in two lengthwise. Spread butter on one side and mustard on the other. Then add the rest of your ingredients.

If I had a Cuban sandwich when I was in Cuba, I was too young to remember it. What I've got evidence of is a hotdog. There's this picture of me in a baby stroller and someone was giving me a hotdog.

So my experiences with Cuban sandwiches, are not as authentic as my mom's were. But one of the things I like about the Cuban sandwich is that crunchy bread. Now Cuban bread is known to have some crunch to it, but when you press that sandwich, you take it to a whole new level.

Pressing the sandwich crunches up the bread and melts the cheese into gooey goodness. The same trick works equally well for the Cuban sandwich's smaller cousin, the media noche or midnight sandwich. I gather it's supposed to be a midnight snack, but for many of us it could easily be lunch. The media noche is on a small loaf of bread which is not as crunchy, but has a delicious taste uniquely its own.

In these sandwiches, the ham and swiss cheese are prominent, along with pork.

Gofio El Guanche 4 pack, 1 pound each. Ground Toasted Wheat.
Gofio El Guanche 4 pack, 1 pound each. Ground Toasted Wheat.

My mom returned to her roots and gained strength from gofio in her later years.


Tasty Traditions Too

The Gofio Ball

It's been more than 50 years since Fidel Castro took over Cuba, transforming not only the island but Florida itself. Many have resettled here and integrated into an American lifestyle.

My childhood memories are of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Although I was an Americanita in what seemed like a foreign land during the Cuban influx, I have my own memories of Cuban traditions from early childhood.

When I was young, I learned to make gofio balls, no that's not golf balls. They are about half the size, depending on how much guava you use.

Making gofio balls, made of guava paste and a toasted wheat flour called gofio in Spanish, was a great way for mama to keep a little girl occupied and encouraged to eat healthy.

Gofio is a staple in the Canary Islands and it is known to give strength and help you gain weight. It disappeared from our shelves when we moved to Fort Lauderdale around 1960. But we rediscovered it in my mom's later years when she tried to put on some weight.

So here's my recipe for making gofio balls, indelibly engraved in my mind from childhood...


guava paste (sliced)

Gofio (two tablespoons or more to taste)

Wax paper (you can use aluminum foil or cutting board, if desired)

Put gofio on top of slice, break down the guava using your thumbs at first, then mashing and turning through your fingers to mix in the gofio. When you have a playdough-like paste, roll into a ball using the palm of your hand and enjoy. Repeat as desired!

Get your Guava

Guava paste is traditionally eaten on Cuban crackers. Add some cream cheese if you like.

More Spanish Foods - Marinating with Mojo

Mojo, used to marinate meats and seafood, is often made with sour oranges, garlic, onions and oregano. Even a little bit of sugar. It can be used as gravy on cooked meat. Try mojo for a savory difference! Like grapefruit, however, sour oranges are not recommended with some medications, so it's best to check for compatibility if you are on meds!

It is very popular with pork, but works quite well with chicken, turkey and beef.

Goya is a popular name brand for Cuban foods in Florida.

Gilda Cuban Crackers Regular Flavor
Gilda Cuban Crackers Regular Flavor

The Cuban cracker is not as flat as the crackers Americans typically eat. Here is a familiar brand.


Cookbooks Featuring Cuban Recipes from


My mom recommended this cookbook. She said it was used by Cuban girls who came to Miami and needed to learn to cook. It is in Spanish.


Another how to make Cuban bread video

Cheryl Rogers
Cheryl Rogers

About the Author

My dad was from Ohio. My mom was from Cuba. And us kids were born in Miami. When we were very small, there still was a lot of visiting back and forth to Cuba. Miami was the shopping mecca. And many enjoyed visiting Cuba, the pearl of the Caribbean. But after Castro came down from the hills and took over the country in 1959, our world changed.

Miami was a primary destination for the Cuban population. The influx has forever changed the culture of my hometown. Now Miami is about as close as you can get to Cuban culture on American soil, unless you count Guantanamo Base on the island of Cuba.

After I went to college in New Orleans, I never returned to live in Miami. I now live in Tampa, where I am a freelance writer and self publishing assistant. My parents joined me in Tampa in their later years, and they enjoyed being part of their grandchildren's lives.

I publish a free, online publication at about uplifting Christian literature. It's a place where visitors can read about the latest literature and the authors can promote and sell their books. I also have written a number of ebooks, the bulk of them to share my Christian faith. Among them are my Bible Camp Mystery series featuring a group of 10- to 16-year-old boys who travel to the Central Florida backwoods to seek God. The group is led by a former New York gang leader, Chet Harrigan, who makes heroic efforts to have the camp runs smoothly. But something always happens. Like the time 13-year-old Zack disappeared in the middle of the night. Or the time there was a forest fire. One of the youths, Peter, and his Uncle Carlos, are of Cuban descent. Carlos likes to cook and he is sure to share that Cuban marinade with the boys.

You can learn more about the Bible Camp Mystery series, including my ebooks Lost in the Woods: A Bible Camp Mystery, and Alone in the Woods, Bible Camp Mystery #2, at my website.

At my website, I also offer my original Scripture posters designs in English and Spanish. You'll also find English and Spanish Scripture products at my Zazzle stores: cherylarogers and Versos de la Biblia Con Fotos.

Gifts for the Chef! - Check out these gorgeous cutting boards

These cutting boards feature my nature photographs taken in Florida, Hawaii and elsewhere.

Instant Immersion Spanish Audio Deluxe (Spanish Edition)
Instant Immersion Spanish Audio Deluxe (Spanish Edition)

The best way to learn a language is to speak it. Practice what you learn, even if it only a few words. That's why I suggest this immersion audio.


Se habla Espanol?


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