A Cuban Frita showdown in Miami

The AP via CBS 4 in Miami:

Miami Frita Showdown Settles Frita Debate

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 03: People at El Rey De Las Fritas restaurant watch as U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney are seen during their televised debate on October 3, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The telecast is the first of four debates for the 2012 Election, three Presidential and one Vice Presidential. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)MIAMI (AP) — It was the battle of the fritas in South Florida, Wednesday.  Some people said it was going to be a showdown between the king and the magician.

The king is Victoriano Benito Gonzalez, an immigrant who once made the paprika-spiced meat patties topped with shoestring fries and tucked in a roll of Cuban bread from his brother’s stand in the city of Placetas and went on to establish a successful chain of fritas, as the burgers are called, in exile.

The magician is Ortelio Cardenas, who learned how to make fritas working in Gonzalez’s restaurant and later started his own restaurant after a bitter falling-out with the boss.

On Wednesday, the king’s daughter and the magician went head to head in a competition in Miami to determine who makes the world’s best frita. Four judges sampled five Cuban-style hamburgers and dozens of frita fans joined them in the tasting.

Cardenas, 74, stood behind a serving counter, as dozens of his freshly made fritas were delivered by young workers from the kitchen.

“We know what we’re doing,” he said calmly.

Two stands down, Mercedes Gonzalez was ready to defend the burger her father perfected.

“I would love to win,” she said.

Fritas first appeared in propane-fueled food carts on Havana street corners in the 1930s. Whether the first frita maker had the American hamburger in mind is the subject of debate. Some consider it an entirely Cuban creation, made originally with ground-beef from another classic dish, the tomato-based picadillo.

Others believe the similarities — the round meat patty sandwiched between a roll, and the strong U.S. influence on the Caribbean nation at the time of the frita’s birth— are undeniable proof of their connection.

In any event, fritas soon became a national snack, perfect fare after a ballgame, an afternoon at the movies or late-night crawl through the bars and cabarets of Havana.

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2 thoughts on “A Cuban Frita showdown in Miami”

  1. There’s no such thing as “salsa,” unless you mean sauce. The music called “salsa” is the Cuban guaracha re-tooled and re-labeled by Puerto Ricans. Sheesh.

  2. They omitted Marx Lesnick from this report. He used to own with Enrique Nuñez a series of frita stands in Havana. In Miami, Lesnick would brag of beig the greatest frita maker and would take pride in showing his skill at shaking a brown paper bag with the frita fries inside.

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