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On The Road With Kitchen Warfare (Day 5)

La Segunda Central Bakery
La Segunda Central Bakery
There’s nothing quite like visiting your home town after being away for awhile. In my case I hadn’t been back to Tampa in 12 years. Its always amazing how many things have changed yet how so many others remain the same. We visited the old neighborhood and knocked on the door of an old friend I hadn’t seen in 30 years. Another really great day.

One thing we haven’t really talked about is how much we Floridians love to eat. The sheer number of locally owned ‘one off’ restaurants is staggering. Of course all the chains you’ve heard of are well represented nearly everywhere you go (except Cedar Key!) but the number of unique and different eateries often inspired by Florida’s extremely diverse ethnic culture is mind boggling esp. after having spent so much time in the far less diverse Midwest. I’m of Spanish heritage, my grandfather emigrated from Spain to Tampa in the early 1900’s as did many Spaniards and Cubans over the years. In Tampa the fusion of food from these different ethnicities is very special to those of us raised there and there are many foods, ingredients and dishes that are hard and often impossible to find anywhere else. There are many traditional dishes but among my favorites are what is often called ‘street food’. In Tampa that’s Cuban sandwiches, deviled crabs (a very different Tampa style), stuffed potatoes, guava pastelitos, empanada’s and a host of other local favorites. I’ve gotten pretty good at replicating some of these great local delicacies but many have proven to be quite challenging. When I am able to visit my home town I usually spend a small fortune and go through a great deal of effort to get some of this great food back home. Not only to eat but to have reference samples as I try and ‘up my game’ on some of my Tampa style efforts.

And this is exactly what we did. First stop was the famous La Segunda Central Bakery for a fresh out of the oven loaf of Cuban bread (and many more loaves and other bakery goods to take back home). My grandfather’s house was just down the road in old Ybor City and this is where my father was born. In my house growing up a day was not complete without a loaf of Pan Cubano. While you may believe you’ve had Cuban bread before if you haven’t had it from a Tampa or Miami bakery it is almost an absolute certainty you’ve never had it at all. There is a lot of Tampa v Miami nonsense as to who first ‘invented’ the style of Cuban bread we find here in Florida and even a bigger scrap as to who ‘invented’ the Cuban sandwich (BTW it was in Tampa :)). In case your curious the debate centers on whether an authentic Cuban sandwich contains genoa salami. Both sides can point to evidence that supports their claim but at the end of the day is doesn’t really matter. Both the Tampa and Miami area’s produce great Americanized Cuban style food they’re just different. Their bread is fatter with more rise, ours is longer, thinner and tastes quite different. Which you prefer is a matter of personal preference BUT when someone tells they’ve had both and can’t tell a difference they’re either a tourist, a short timer (non-native) or possibly just have no sense of taste. In any case, simply do not believe them.

This evening for supper in our motel room we just polished off a variety of local favorites that we acquired throughout the day. From the upper left going clockwise we have a Tampa style deviled crab (that got a little smushed), a half a Cuban sandwich, an empanda, and a Papas Rellenas (fried potato stuffed with cuban spiced beef). BTW the Empanda (the yellow thing) in this picture was made with a cornmeal shell which is not my favorite. I personally prefer the flour based shells which are more the color of pie crust.

And while we’re bragging about cooking prowess (well we are now) and while there is certainly nothing like the original we’ve gotten pretty darn good at making everything in this picture right here in the hills. We’ll be sharing some of that in upcoming articles.

BTW, if you’re interested in trying to bake some Tampa style Pan Cubano yourself, check out Kitchen Warfare’s Tampa style Cuban Bread Project (link coming soon).


A Day In Tampa Eating The Food Of Your Youth

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