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How one sandwich made me question every fine-dining meal I’d ever had

The Independent logo The Independent 02/07/2022 Sean Russell
iStock-1305692648.jpg © Getty iStock-1305692648.jpg

Have you ever had a fine-dining meal that made you genuinely happy? Even just for a fleeting moment, in the throes of food-induced ecstasy?

I haven’t. As part of my job, I have had the chance to go to some fancy restaurants. Restaurants I probably couldn’t afford normally. And I do enjoy them, but at least part of it is knowing I should enjoy them because of how much it might cost normally.

Yes, this parfait topped with truffle shavings is good, but is it delicious, truly delicious?

This past weekend, I had something truly delicious and it was not in a fine-dining restaurant, and it cost only £10. I had my very first Cubanos sandwich.

If you’ve seen Chef, the movie with Jon Favreau, you will know what type of sandwich I am talking about, butter-brushed bread filled with pork, on a slice of ham with mustard and a gherkin (in some cases cheese as well). In the film, titular chef Carl Casper swaps his fancy fine-dining restaurant for a food truck selling Cubanos sandwiches.

I loved every moment of it. Tears-in-eyes loved it. I have never had that experience at a fancy restaurant where they dot my plate with green spots of whatever

I saw it recently and became enamoured with the filthy looking sandwiches he was making. It was dripping with grease and fried, it was full of meat, pouring out the sides. Luckily for me, there is a place that serves Cuban food close to where I live, a little cafe called The View Tube café and so I did it, I got one.

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That was a proper food experience. The pulled pork oozed with grease, the mustard heats the mouth just a little and the gherkin cools it down again. There’s a slice of ham in there for who knows what reason other than pure deliciousness, and the sandwich is packed full.

I loved every moment of it. Tears-in-eyes loved it. I have never had that experience at a fancy restaurant where they dot my plate with green spots of whatever.

Food shouldn’t be anaesthetised; it shouldn’t be so clean and so lacking in character. I guess all that stuff has a place, but for me food is cultural, it can tell a story about a place. Most of our favourite foods such as pizza can tell a story, usually of poverty, people using what they had to produce cheap but satisfying food. That is why I love so-called street food, it’s unpretentious, it doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is, and it is handed down generations. Although I do have a problem when people charge bourgeois prices for it.

During the 1800s and early 1900s movement between Cuba and Florida was easy. Workers from Cuba would come over to Florida to work in the cigar factories, people who had already been working in Cuba’s cigar factories and eating Cubanos sandwiches for lunch. Many believe this is how the sandwich made its way to America and into the hearts of both Americans and the Cuban diaspora.

Like the Cornish pasty, then, this is a food with a history in industrialisation. Pasty crusts were not supposed to be eaten, they were to be held by tin-covered hands of miners and thrown away when the rest of the pasty was finished. They were filled with meat because that was seen as the best for manual labour. The same could perhaps be said of the Cubanos, filled with meat to keep the workers going.

Do you get that with pea puree served on a single piece of garlic-brushed bread and a plate dotted with drops of, I dunno, cranberry?

Give me a Cubanos sandwich any day of the week. Food should be comforting and it should always be delicious.

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