Morning Calm Magazine Street Foods Feature

So I wake up one morning and I have an email from the editor of Morning Calm, Korean Air’s In-Flight magazine. The job…he wants to do a feature for the Street Foods section on Cuban sandwiches with “editorial photography of vendors preparing and selling them, of people eating them, and some street scenes that show Cuban culture in Miami.” Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for my waistline), you can’t talk about a Cuban sandwich in the context of street food without also mentioning the croqueta (croquette - ground up ham with a béchamel sauce formed into delicious little logs, then rolled in bread crumbs and deep-fried) and the cafecito cubano (a shot of espresso mixed with a sugar/coffee paste that delivers a rich/sweet foam head on the coffee)…but I digress….I was more than happy to research and photograph this topic, as you can tell…over and over and over again.

The first step of every single commercial and editorial photography assignment I accept is research. For this job I looked at existing material on Cuban sandwiches and “Calle Ocho”. On one hand I’m looking for visual inspiration and guidance, but on the other hand, I’m looking to see what’s been done so I don’t repeat the same stuff that’s currently out there. I don’t pretend to be the best photographer of any genre…commercial or editorial, for an ad agency or for a magazine…but I care enough about my clients and the job to do it proper justice…and this requires effort. Some jobs require less research than others, but they all deserve my detailed attention.

After having done my due diligence I set out to walk up and down “Calle Ocho” for hours, scouting locations for the main shot of some people eating Cuban sandwiches…checking out little shops, buying a soft drink or snack at some of them, talked to strangers and looked for buildings to get on top of so I could get a higher vantage point of the area. The most important part of this exercise was obviously the images I was tasked to capture for my client, but I brought back something far more meaningful and interesting…the experience of having rediscovered a part of town I never really cared for. Little Havana is usually full of people at most hours…pumping Cuban coffee into the willing, over-caffeinated masses of tourists and locals alike. Sweet.

The juxtaposition of this old school neighborhood against the backdrop of Brickell, chock full of multi-million dollar high rises and home to the largest concentration of international banks in the US, only adds to the eccentricity of this side of town. “Calle Ocho” has bars, eateries, a domino park, an old theater, ice-cream shops and everything in between…all of which I was happy to explore in detail over the course of several days.

In the end, I had a great time shooting this. I got to photograph something that was literally, hiding right under my nose, as I’ve been eating Cuban sandwiches and croquetas since I was a kid and discovered cuban coffee studying for a 7th grade World Geography final at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School…thanks Danny.

At the end of the day this was a photography assignment that allowed me to rediscover my Cuban roots and taught me to appreciate a proper Cuban sandwich.

Below please find the published work!

Edible Revolution by Rebecca Wakefield

When talking about the quintessential Cuban dish— the eponymous sandwich — it is important to first state upfront that the only true example of the genre is located in Miami. Do not be fooled by such Florida locales like Tampa Bay, which have taken a perfect thing and changed it into something that is more Italian than Cuban.In Miami, the Cuban sandwich is best ordered from a Latin cafeteria or diner, preferably one with a window that opens onto the street for the dispensation of inexpensive, high-octane hits of coffee and sugar.
You can order a sandwich from the window, but the “Cuban” is a substantial affair best enjoyed seated. The window is for finger food: salty, addictive croquetas that are something like miniature logs of fried and breaded meat, or sweet guava pastelitos, flaky pockets of puffed pastry filled with guava paste and lemon-tinged cream cheese. The frita, a Cuban hamburger, is also not to be missed.

The Cuban sandwich is a working man’s lunch, overstuffed and invariably messy, but deeply satisfying. Its origins are somewhat disputed. Some records say it emerged from the working class cigar factory neighborhoods of Tampa Bay around 1905. Others claim it came over directly from Cuba, and it found its true expression on the streets of Miami.
“Even though it is a very simple sandwich to make, very few Cuban families ever make a Cuban sandwich at home,” says Glenn Lindgren, one of the Three Guys From Miami, who run four popular Cuban-American websites and are the authors of two best-selling Cuban cookbooks. “Having a Cuban sandwich is a great excuse to get out of the house and possibly meet your neighbors and friends at the local shop or walk-up window. It is one of those rituals that make eating Cuban food such a pleasure in Miami.”

It begins and ends with the bread — a loaf of thick, airy white Cuban bread that is slightly under-baked, which allows the crust to crisp on the press without getting overly brown. Layered onto the buttered bread are quantities of slow-roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles. Most places add mustard, but some feel that this is overkill. In Miami, it is best not to ask about tomatoes, mayonnaise, and especially not salami.

The sandwich is then cooked in a press to toast the outside and seal in the juices of the garlicky pork and sweet ham. It is cut into diagonal slices and served on a plate, often with crispy potato sticks on the side. A good Cuban will be reduced to nothing but flurries of crust crumbs by the end of the meal.
In Tampa Bay or Key West, the sandwich may or may not be pressed. It could include a layer of salami, and may be offered with other toppings typical of American sandwiches. According to Lindgren, the Tampa Bay-style sandwiches can be a nice change of pace — occasionally. “However, we must insist that a true Cuban sandwich must be flattened and toasted on a plancha and must never, ever contain any mayonnaise,” he insists. “That first bite should be crispy, slightly crunchy with the blend of juicy roast pork and ham and plenty of soft melted cheese.”
There are many places to get a good Cuban in Miami and disputes about whose are the best are nearly as lively as the Tampa/Miami debate. On the Little Havana tourist trail, two places stick out as well worth a stop. El Exquisito on Calle Ocho has been a staple of the neighborhood for more than 40 years. And just a short walk past art galleries, cigar shops and Domino Park, El Pub is also a venerable institution operated by the same family.

Each locale sports a pre-revolutionary flavor, thanks to the careful attention of octogenarian Heliodoro Coro, who, until very recently, could be seen behind the lunch counter slicing pork by hand each day. With Cuban flags and maps and poster nostalgia in abundance, the place is a favorite with both tourists and locals. The savory, velvety black beans are superb and should also not be missed.

Further afield, Luis Galindo’s Latin American just west of Coral Gables is a local favorite that people continued to frequent after its first location was shut down due to hurricane damage. Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop in Wynwood, which is a daily stop for many denizens of downtown Miami, is another option. Islas Canarias on Northwest 27 Avenue is frequented by both white and blue collar workers in central Miami. For sheer, over-the-top Miami flavor, a trip to Versailles is in order, although less so for the food than for the surreal surroundings.

“I grew up going to Galindo’s,” explains filmmaker and newspaper columnist Joe Cardona, a Miami native. “I’d sit and watch the guy slice the meat right there. In a world of trendy foodie glamour, these folks make the Cuban sandwich with its original, simple ingredients. I was in awe of it at six, and I’m still in awe of it now.”

by Rebecca Wakefield

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