all words and photos: Philippe Chetrit
Its hard to say exactly when the Cuban Sandwich was invented. We know that in the 1900’s, while there was free flow of Cuban workers between Cuba and south Florida, this was the sandwich of choice for Cuban workers, sailing back and forth. By 1910, the Cuban Sandwich or Cuban Press or Mixto Sandwich was ubiquitous in the cafes of Key West, Ybor City, and Miami. And then the Communist Revolution caused Cuban expatriates to spread across America bring their culture and sandwiches with them. As far as DC is concerned the Cuban Sandwich was invented yesterday.
Though the Cuban Sandwich could be considered street food, its actually a perfect balance of very specific ingredients. I have eaten probably over a gillion Cubans in my day (the best being at Cafe Habana in NY, what what) and half a gillion have been in DC. None have gotten it right. You see, the Cuban is the sum of its parts. What chefs don’t realize is that if you have one ingredient wrong the whole sandwich is ruined. There are only 5 ingredients, Cuban bread, roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles. None of these are to be taken lightly.
The classic mistakes:
1. Wrong bread – Thats just plain wrong. You can’t get a sub, put it in a pita and then call it a sub. Get it.
2. Wrong mustard – This is the easiest thing not to fuck up and yet its always fucked up. The perfect mustard is mild Dijon or sharp yellow.
3. No roasted pork – Nuff said.
Yesterday, around noon, I got an email from Manuel, one of the owners of Fast Gourmet, “Philippe. We finished the Cuban. You have to be the first to try it before we put it on the menu.” I threw on my coat, wrapped my scarf and then read, “It will be ready after 6pm”. Fudge. I was hungry. 8:30pm, so hungry, I roll into Fast Gourmet. Manuel, standing behind the counter, see’s me. He has a huge shit eating grin. You can tell he is confident. This better be good. I want to still love this place when I leave.
Let’s cut to the chase. This Cuban was FUCKING RIDICULOUS. Each ingredient better than the next. The ham, honey glazed and perfectly cut. The Swiss, well its Swiss but that Swiss was melted as shit. The mustard, seeded Dijon which adds a hint of sweetness. The pickles were thinly sliced Kosher dills. The bread, home made cause you can’t get Cuban bread in the states, or at least not in DC. The pork, slow roasted for 7 hours in their own blend of spices. I dare any of you to find a better Cuban. If you do please call me ASAP.
So there you go. Fast Gourmet deliverers again. If you haven’t been, stop being a fuck up. If you have, then you know.