Cuban sandwich showdown in Ybor City


Elisa Santana

The Cuban Sandwich Festival brought in competition from all over Florida.

Elisa Santana , Staff Writer

  The city of Ybor hosted the fourth annual Cuban Sandwich Festival. The festival featured dozens of Cuban sandwiches from restaurants all over Florida.

  Representatives from multiple restaurants around Florida came together to build the longest Cuban sandwich ever. They had a variety of different meats, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard to dress the Cuban bread donated by La Segunda bakery. Dozens of people showed up to witness the assembly of the monstrous sandwich as the participants attempted to break the record from last year.

  The aroma of freshly baked Cuban bread filled the air as the streets of Ybor were lined with musical performances, food, drinks, and merchandise from different sponsors and vendors. Food trucks served an assortment of Latin inspired cuisine; such as, empanadas, arepas, pastelitos and skewers. All cravings were fulfilled, leaving none unsatisfied.

  The idea of building the world’s largest Cuban sandwich isn’t just for entertainment. The festival brings awareness to New Beginnings Ministries, an organization that feeds the homeless in Tampa. The money raised also supports co-founders Victor and Jolie Padilla’s granddaughter Emberlynn, who has Diaphragmatic Hernia Syndrome.

  The Padilla’s said they came up with the idea for a Cuban Sandwich Festival because they “…wanted to do an event that had never been done before in the history of Tampa. One that would bring people together, bring in tourism, drawing them into Tampa’s rich culture and history.”

  In October 2011, the Padilla’s were sitting in a Cuban restaurant and were contemplating how to conduct a cultural and historical type of event. “We knew it was God sent… no one had ever done this type of festival before… the first one in May [2012], after which we began to do the World’s Largest Cuban Sandwich, which is now part of the festival.”

  There were between 25-30 restaurants that presented their most delicious and unique Cuban sandwiches during the competitive portion of the event. The competition was cut up into four sections – Tampa Historic Cuban sandwich, Nontraditional Cuban sandwich, Popular Cuban sandwich and World’s Best Cuban sandwich – and for each section, there was about 10 judges.

  Cloe Cabrera, a judge who works for the Tampa Tribune, says the secret for the restaurants is “the bread. It has to be authentic Cuban bread that is made with a palm frond, crusty, I prefer my bread pressed and it should have the perfect combination of ingredients … just a thin layer of pork, a thin layer of ham, salami, mustard, a thin layer of mayo and pickles.”

  Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor has been judging for the Cuban Sandwich Festival for four years. Castor admitted, “I’m a traditional girl … I’m not into the interpretation or the fancy stuff. I’m a warm pressed Cuban sandwich type, those are the ones that catch my eye.” She expressed her love for the city of Tampa, “… one of the beautiful things about Tampa is the diversity, and to me that translates into great food and this is just an opportunity to celebrate our diversity and to have everyone from all walks of life embrace the diversity we have in our city.”