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 passed a law designating a week, which included Sep. 15 and 16, as National Hispanic Heritage Week. This annual declaration honored the contributions of Hispanic Americans who came to the US from countries such as Spain, Mexico, 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.


Once a booming cigar economy

One such place where you can immerse yourself in traditional Hispanic cooking combined with flavors from today is 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 2019 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 more than 18,000 loaves they make daily. It keeps them moist and creates the signature split down the middle.


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, grocery stores and hotels across the country.


"We ship them frozen to all 50 states," says Moré. You can also feast on a Cuban sandwich at other locations in Tampa, including La Tropicana Cuban Cafe, Carmine’s Seventh Avenue and Columbia, Florida’s oldest restaurant.


An unsurpassed history

The Columbia restaurant, which was founded by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. in 1905, is still family-owned and operated. It is not only known for Cuban sandwiches, but their sangria is well-loved, their black beans scream authenticity and of course you must have their famous salad which is 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 the Sicilians, 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, Sarasota, St. Augustine Historic District, Clear Water Beach, Sand Key and Celebration, Orlando.


Thirsty for more?

Can’t get to Ybor? Take your taste buds on a tour of Hispanic cooking at one of these restaurants. Que Rico!


Cuban


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 within a decor of 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) tostones con mojo (fried green plantains with sauce) that will delight all.


Columbian


Medellin Restaurant in Coral Springs: is a hidden gem featuring mouth-watering chorizo.


Salento Columbian Steak House in Jacksonville: though it is a steakhouse it boasts a plethora of must-try arepas (corn cakes).


Nicaraguan


La Fritanga in Miami: the must-try item on the menu are 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).


Mexican


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: is perfect for when you are craving street-style tacos.


You can also celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month through food by trying a few recipes at home.


This story has been written and syndicated across GateHouse Media Group's 22 Florida markets.