August 23, 2023

Happy National Cuban Sandwich Day!

As a current summer intern for Majestic Hospitality, one of the most important takeaways I’ve had the pleasure of realizing how tremendously vast and interconnected our world is. For context, I grew up in a small suburban bubble in Southern California; sheltered by local schools and communities. Only recently have I been able to familiarize myself with neighboring freeways and a shaky sense of which direction is North. As a result, hopping from this worldview to one of working for an international development company was a mental quantum leap.

And so began my personal mission to become the Einstein-equivalent of culinary geography. After a pleasant discovery that August 23rd is National Cuban Sandwich Day and inspired by Majestic’s ongoing activity in the Caribbean, I present to you my reader, A Stimulation of the Senses: The Cuban Sandwich.

As all good stories go, I will start at the beginning. What is the Cuban Sandwich and where did it come from? 

Historical evidence suggests the sandwich comes from indigenous beginnings as a common meal of the Taíno tribe in Cuba. They made theirs with fish and bird, sandwiched between casabe bread that had a cracker-like texture. However, the ingredients began to evolve after Christopher Columbus arrived with eight (8) pigs from Spain, thus introducing pork to Cuba as a result. The sandwich increased exponentially in popularity through immigrants working for the booming Cuban cigar industry beginning in 1869.

During this time, Vicente Martinez Ybor, a local entrepreneur, had a prominent cigar manufacturing business in Havana. However, after his connection to political revolutionaries was discovered, he fled to Florida for safety. There, he replicated his success, setting up his first cigar factory in Key West and then in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood. At his factories, home was never far away, thanks to the Cuban factory workers who had brought with them the decadent sandwich, sharing it with their Sicilian colleagues. A popular lunch, the meal was appreciated for how easy it was to make, its deliciousness, and affordability.

After its significant history, the ingredients today are recognized to be glazed ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard plopped between two slices of crispy Cuban bread. Variations exist, but the alterations are not drastic.

In my first draft of this essay, I was ready to end it there. With pride, I felt like I had described and explained a concise summary of the sandwich and its evolution. But then I was asked a question that startled me….Had I ever eaten a Cuban sandwich before? 


With my only sandwich experiences being limited to the innovations I procure at Subway, I had never eaten anything that even slightly resembled a Cuban sandwich. Time to fix that! Accompanied by a good friend and lengthy internet research, I decided to visit El Conchito, a Cuban restaurant in LA with considerable recognition…one of those being an award for the winner of the Best Cuban Sandwich in the World, 2018.

Eagle-focused on my mission, I ordered the Cubano from Laura, a hostess with a kind and gentle demeanor. Comforted by her warmth, I tested my elementary Spanish and was delighted to see that my timid Por favor señora, yo quiero … had actually translated to a hot, saucy sandwich wrapped up in a paper bag. Tangy from the mustard, tart from the pickles, sweet from the bread, and savory from the pork, this sandwich contains almost every flavor that exists on this planet. Without a lighter vegetable to cut through the intensity of the meat, the sandwich is perfect for a carnivore. In fact, whilst munching on the sandwich with oily lips and fingers, I was reminded of my dad. As a man who scoffs at vegetables and chooses the meat-only option to whatever template possible, he explained to 7 year old Shanti that doing so gave you the most bang for your buck. I could imagine those exact same words being uttered by a gruff factory worker praising the efficiency of his meal to his fellow colleagues. While the bread was soft instead of crispy (again, variations occur) I felt satiated and ready for a food coma after devouring the entire meal and washing it down with sweet and bubbly Materva, a yerba-flavored soda. FYI, for those who were equally confused as I was, yerba mate is a type of tea leaf with numerous health benefits. Whether those health benefits are still present in the form of a soda is a debate for another day.

While the sandwich was most certainly delicious and well deserving of its award, what truly made the experience enriching was Laura herself. An immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, she was bemused and supportive of my amateur attempts to be a food influencer. With a soft smile on her face and exuding the utmost patience at my clumsy bumps into tables and awkward photography all around the restaurant.  Her warmth created the sensation that I was at a family reunion. My friend, who actually spoke fluent Spanish, talked to her endlessly as I continued roaming around. 

And with that dear reader, the story comes to a close. Reading this, you may note that I ended with emphasis being placed on Laura rather than the sandwich itself. I state this as a reminder of how  important food is to not just culture but our daily livelihoods (and how in the hospitality business the best thing to accompany great food is great service). Any other day, it would have been a decent sandwich that I ate once upon a time. But with Laura, my visit to El Cochinito will last as a memory.

So on August 23rd, I wish you a very Happy National Cuban Sandwich Day. Who will you split yours with?

Written by Shanti Huang, Majestic Hospitality Summer Intern