The Difference Between Cuban Sandwiches And Medianoches Is All In The Bread

If you love a Cuban sandwich, the idea of making one differently might beg the question, "Why?" But it has a close cousin, medianoches, that should have you rethinking that attitude — and all it takes is some different bread. It's amazing that for a food literally defined by bread, it's what's in between the slices that usually makes a sandwich. When you order a Cuban what you expect is that unique and perfectly balanced flavor of roasted pork and sweeter ham, with tangy mustard, sharp pickles, and melty cheese. The bread it's all pressed between doesn't seem unimportant, but it's not what makes a Cuban, right? Well, a medianoches sandwich shows just how wrong ignoring the bread can be.

Cuban sandwiches are usually made with a fluffy, slightly crusty Cuban-style white bread, not all that different from a sub roll. A medianoches takes exactly the same fillings of a Cuban, but swaps out that bread for a softer type known as "pan suave." This pan suave bread is eggier and more sugary, which adds an extra richness and sweetness to the sandwich. The softer texture of the bread makes for a distinct eating experience, and the extra flavors bring the normal ingredients of a Cubano to the next level. It's also pressed on a griddle, so the added sugar means it browns more and the crust crisps up better.

Medianoches fillings are sandwiched between pressed slices of soft, sweet bread

Pan suave is also sometimes called medianoches bread, like its famous sandwich. The name medianoches comes from the time of day it is often eaten, midnight, as it's a popular street food consumed after a long night of partying in Cuba. The richness of the eggy bread is supposedly more friendly to the stomach for people who've been out drinking all night and getting ready to head back home to sleep. Pan suave also gets used in other classic Cuban foods like the Elena Ruz, which has roasted turkey, cream cheese, and strawberry jam between the sweet bread.

If you are looking to recreate the medianoches at home you can look for pan suave at a local Cuban bakery, but overall it can be hard to find. The best substitute is challah, which shares its soft, eggy, enriched texture and flavor. Soft brioche is also a decent option that should give you good results, and Hawaiian rolls will bring a similar sweet flavor. But just like Cuban sandwiches, medianoches sandwiches require slow roasted pork and are pretty labor intensive, so it's best to consume them at a restaurant. If you want to experience the transformative power of pan suave yourself, go find a local Cuban spot and hope they have it on the menu.