National Hispanic Heritage Month: Traditional Latin food from Ybor to Miami
While there are many ways to acknowledge accomplishments and history, perhaps one of the best is through food. This is especially true if you’re lucky enough to be in Florida during National Hispanic Heritage Month.
The origins of National Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968 when Congress designated a week, which included Sept. 15 and 16, as National Hispanic Heritage Week. This annual declaration honored the contributions of Hispanic Americans who came to the United States from countries such as Spain and Mexico, and regions including the Caribbean, Central and South America. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan extended the week-long celebration to a month covering Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, which includes the independence days of several Latin American countries.
Cigar Capital of the World
One place to immerse yourself in traditional Hispanic cooking combined with flavors from today is the Ybor City Historic District, located northeast of downtown Tampa.
Once known as the “Cigar Capital of the World,” Ybor is defined by its diverse blend of cultures that settled there from Cuba, Asia, and Europe. The immigrant population, which arrived during the late 19th and early 20th century, was brought in to bolster the thriving cigar industry.
Though the 2020 version of the city’s economy relies much less on cigars, the food still encompasses its rich heritage and cultural diversity. Ybor is an excellent place to experience the complexity of Hispanic culture and its food.
The Cuban Sandwich
You can’t talk about Ybor without first understanding a Cuban sandwich. Though the recipe for the bread is said to have originated in Cuba, the sandwich did not. It was created to feed the workers at the cigar factories, featuring ingredients that reflected their origins.
“It still represents all the cultures and ethnicities,” says Stephanie Moré, whose husband Anthony Copeland Moré operates La Segunda Central Bakery with his father. “We have kept the same bread recipe that my husband’s great, great grandfather, Juan Moré started in 1915,” she says.
In fact, in keeping with tradition, a freshly cut palmetto leaf is placed on top of each of the 18,000 loaves they make daily. It keeps them moist and creates the signature split down the middle.
“We ship them frozen to all 50 states,” says Moré. You can also feast on a Cuban sandwich at other locations in Tampa, including Carmine’s Seventh Avenue and Columbia, Florida’s oldest restaurant.
When the bakery initially began, they would deliver to casitas via horse and buggy. Though home deliveries ceased during the 1980s, you can find their loaves at schools, restaurants, and hotels across the country.
Florida's Oldest Restaurant
The Columbia restaurant, founded by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. in 1905, is still family-owned and operated. It is not just known for Cuban sandwiches—their sangria is well-loved, their black beans scream authenticity and of course, you must have their famous salad, prepared tableside.
Columbia’s Original “1905” Salad, much like the Cuban sandwich, was inspired by the immigrants of the city. It includes Romano cheese from Italians, garlic dressing used by Cubans to marinate fresh roast pork, plus Florida tomatoes, lettuce, ham, and Swiss cheese. Though the original restaurant is located in Ybor City, there are also locations in St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota, St. Augustine Historic District, Clearwater Beach, Sand Key and Celebration, near Orlando.
Can’t get to Ybor? Take your taste buds on a tour of Hispanic cooking at one of these restaurants. Que Rico!
Gordo’s in Tallahassee:Their dishes are cooked to order.
Hemingway’s in Tampa: Features a modern take on Cuban-style cooking.
Habana Café in St. Petersburg: You can feast on authentic food surrounded by original Audubon prints.
Rumba Cuban Cafe in Naples: If you try nothing else, you must have the maduros (fried sweet plantains).
Little Havana Restaurant in North Miami, Deerfield Beach and Coral Springs: They offer an eclectic mix of food.
Havana Cuban Restaurant in West Palm Beach: They offer vegetarian choices such as Arroz moro (rice slowly cooked with plantains) and tostones con mojo (fried green plantains with sauce) that will delight all.
Medellin Restaurant in Coral Springs: This s a hidden gem featuring mouth-watering chorizo.
Salento Colombian Steakhouse in Jacksonville: It may be a steakhouse, but it boasts a plethora of must-try arepas (corn cakes).
La Fritanga in Miami: Must-try menu item —the Nicaraguan style tamales known as nacatamales (pork, rice, and potatoes wrapped and steamed inside of a plantain leaf).
Fritanga La Nueva in Orlando: Go for their carne desmenuzada (shredded meat) and stay for the frijoles rojos fritos (fried red beans).
El Black Bean Cafe in West Palm Beach: They have simple and unpretentious food choices such as La Yucca Burritos.
La Margaritas Mexican Restaurant & Gallery in Ocala: Try their made-from-scratch tableside guacamole.
El Agave Azul in Jacksonville: This place is perfect for when you are craving street-style tacos.
If you prefer to keep it close to home you can also celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month through food by trying a few recipes at home.