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Sunday, Nov 18, 2018
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Cuban Sandwich Festival has become international competition

Chefs from London took home top honors at last year's Cuban Sandwich Festival held annually in Ybor City.

An eatery from South Korea hopes to win top billing at the 2017 contest to be held this weekend at Hillsborough Community College's Ybor City campus, 1330 E Palm Ave.

A cafe from New Zealand expressed interest in entering this year but decided that next year may work out better.

Now entering its sixth edition, the founders of the Cuban Sandwich Festival say the event has become an international competition for an international cuisine.

"I keep thinking, 'Wow, this is crazy,'" co-founder Victor Padilla said. "This was all meant to be for Tampa. Now it's going worldwide."

The free event kicks off Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. with a day of art exhibits, live music and the making of a 140-foot Cuban Sandwich.

Then on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., the 2017 Cuban Sandwich world champion will be crowned.

"It really is a world champ," Padilla said.

Padilla believes his contest and a controversy it quickly started has something to do with the growing global love of Cuban sandwiches.

The idea for the festival was birthed in October 2011, Padilla said, when he and his wife Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla were batting around ideas for an event that the city could enjoy.

"The Cuban is Tampa's sandwich," he said. "It needed to be honored."

Tampa City Council member Yvonne Capin agreed. She introduced a resolution that named the Cuban as Tampa's signature sandwich and designated its official ingredients as sweet ham, mojo-marinated roast pork, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, mustard and Genoa salami.

Upon hearing of this, Miami politicians and food aficionados from the South Florida city argued the sandwich's origin was theirs to claim and mocked Tampa's inclusion of salami.

"This banter made it into newspapers in Spain and then spread all over the world," festival founder Padilla said. "In our fourth year, the Wall Street Journal wrote an article about how the Cuban Sandwich was taking over the world."

In 2015 the festival expanded with a contest in Miami.

Last year, Padilla and his team added one in Orlando.

"We'd like to one day start one in New York, Chicago, California," he said. "But the one in Ybor will always be the big finale."

And while London street vendor Jama Cubana became the festival's first overseas winner in 2016, the entry from Korea's Geunmin Kang and Hyunmin Cho may be the most distinct yet, Padilla said, because of the name of the restaurant — the Tampa Sandwich Bar.

"Tampa and Cuban Sandwiches in South Korea?" Padilla said with a laugh. "It's great."

The owners of the South Korean restaurant learned the recipe on YouTube and this marks their first visit to this city.

"They are willing to jump in a plane and come across the world to compete," contest co-founder Joli Gonzalez-Padilla said. "That shows how much power this sandwich has."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.


Sixth annual Cuban Sandwich Festival

The festival takes place Saturday (April 1) and Sunday (April 2) at Hillsborough Community College Ybor City Campus, 1320 E Palm Avenue. Saturday's events include the Biggest Cuban Sandwich in the world, a kids Cuban smackdown and a Cuban sandwich eating contest. On Sunday, contestants from around the world compete for the title of world's best Cuban. Visit thecubansandwichfestival.com.

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