Accompanying my travel partner on a work sojourn to Miami was an excellent cure for being homebound for too long!
As I was packing my trusted Osprey rolly bag, I realized how much I have missed my little two-wheeled companion. I tend to pack meticulously and could happily spend time squeezing just the right amount of shampoo in the correct size container, depending on the length of the journey, yet always adding a squoosh more, in case plans allow me to stay longer. I roll up my clothing and as I fill every square cubic inch, I am smiling the whole time.
Why am I a traveler? Why do I cherish my good fortune to have been blessed with a wandering soul? I am not going to speculate at this point, I have a plane to catch!
There are a multitude of activities and sights in the greater Miami area, but one catches my attention: Little Havana. The very top of my travel wish list has been Cuba, for now, this seems the next best thing.
The vibrant and colorful main route through Little Havana is an easy to meander street called Calle Ocho. Art and murals are splashed everywhere and wafting smells from bakeries and coffee shops entice us to visit each one.
However, thirst calls and as we pull in to El Cristo restaurant, we are warmly greeted by Juan Carlos, better known as Kachi. With a sly grin, he asks our beverage preferences. We order “Dos mojitos, por favor”. Kachi replies, “OK, a pitcher of mojitos!” Uh, wait what? He disappears and it’s our turn to grin and go along with the ride.
Kachi returns and plops down the Mojito pitcher and takes our food order. He spends time chatting with us about the area. He is originally from Cali, Colombia. Then a silent sadness crosses his face for a moment, as he pulls out his phone and shows us photos of his younger brother in a wheelchair. He was in an accident here in Miami, and Kachi immediately left Colombia to help take care of him, and has been here for many years now. Nothing could keep him from his brother, not even his wife, who ended up divorcing him when Kachi chose to stay in Florida. We toast our newfound amigo and sip the specialty of the house as we savor many plates of divine cuisine.
We talk with Kachi about food and culture. I have had cravings for a Cubano sandwich, especially after recently watching the movie “Chef.”
The next day we are on a serious search for a vegetarian version of a Cubano. My body is happiest being fueled by plants. I choose to leave animals and fish off my plate, is it possible in this town to replicate the meat-oriented dish?
At a beachfront café, from a lovely, uncrowded outdoor table, I asked our waitress if the chef would make a meat-free Cubano, perhaps substituting avocado? While she professionally stopped herself from rolling her eyes, she kindly explained that a Cubano IS meat, and without even asking, she said NO, the chef would not omit the meat. Fair enough, I would have been happy to have just grilled cheese on fresh Cuban bread, but I was enticed to re-create this gem of a sandwich when I could find gourmet vegetarian products.
We did manage to find Vegan Cuban Cuisine, the only place in all of Miami that offered an alternative to meat, and they pulled it off with jackfruit sitting in for the traditional two different types of pork.
Back home, I got to work in the galley, craving that delectable, delightful sandwich that has so few ingredients, yet packs a veritable punch to the taste buds and brings a smile to everyone I’ve served it to.
The origin of the Cubano is as hazy as a cigar bar, however the sandwich was popular among Cuban workers who frequently sailed back and forth from Cuba to Florida in the early 1900’s to work in cigar factories.
Traveling workers from Italy, Germany and Spain added Swiss cheese, mustard and dill pickles to the melting pot of ingredients in the Cubano.
Happy to bring a slice of Cuba to my kitchen, while savoring the memories and tastes of Little Havana, the challenge is to create an appealing meal for carnivores and veggie lovers alike.
Here is my recipe for a scrumptious Cubano sandwich:
Dill Pickle slices, long cut
Vegan meat slices
Vegan cheese slices
Take two thick slices of sourdough and spread mustard on the inside of both slices.
On one bread slice, layer vegan meat slices, cheese slices and pickles.
Place second bread slice of top of all ingredients.
Spread butter on outside of both slices.
Heat frying pan on medium and cook sandwich until crispy and golden brown, then flip over and press down with spatula, until crispy. This can also be done in a Panini maker.
Place sandwich on a cutting board and slice lengthwise diagonally.