There are many stories going around about the origin of that most improbably Cuban sandwich, the Elena Ruz.
In some websites there have been long discussions with all kinds of theories and suppositions...what most agree on is that the first time it was seen on any Cuban restaurant menu it was at El Carmelo of 23rd and G Streets, a popular place in the upper-class Vedado area of Havana.
Some say it was named after an American whose last name was Rush and Cubans pronounced as Ruz...Someone else asserts that the sandwich was actually named after Babe Ruth's wife Helen when she requested a special order sandwich from the staff at the Hotel National in Havana. This one claims that Helen was changed to Elena and that since Cubans couldn't pronounced Ruth, it was changed to Roos as a literal spelling of the name, so it then turned to Ruz.
Neither of those stories is correct. For the record, my middle name is Ruth and no one in Cuba pronounced it Roos or Ruz.
Elena Ruz Valdez-Fauli was a young Havana socialite from a very prominent family in the late 1920's who used to frequent the El Carmelo Restaurant with her school friends. Elena would request a sandwich made especialy for her with lightly toasted medianoche bread, spread generously with cream cheese and strawberry jam, then filled with roasted turkey slices.
She would have to explain her combination each time she ordered it, so after a while she requested the sandwich be put on the menu so she wouldn't have to explain each time. The management complied and eventually also placed a neon sign at the window announcing the 'Elena Ruz Sandwich' for 25 cents. That was quite expensive at the time considering that a regular Medianoche Sandwich or even the larger Cuban Sandwich were offered for 5 and 10 cents respectively.
Many years later, during an interview with the Miami Herald she explained " I loved it, but my mother was horrified. She thought it was disgraceful to have my name in lights as if I were advertising myself."
In time Elena married Eduardo Ulacia and had 5 children. From Cuba the family settled first in Miami and some years later lived for a while in Spain.
On the morning of November 28th, 2011 at the age of 102 years old, Elena Ruz Valdez-Fauli de Ulacia died in San Jose, Costa Rica where she had moved to be near her daughter Margarita Ulacia Ruz.
Since then any Cuban restaurant or eatery, including in exile, features the Elena Ruz sandwich, although some of them insist in spelling it Ruth and many have no idea of the story or the fascinating woman behind it.
At the Cocina Cubana group in Yahoo, the sandwich came into discussion and one of the group member's who lives in Costa Rica took it upon himself to contact friends of his family who were also friends with Elena's daughter. Through him we received the photo of Elena in this post as well as an e-mail from Elena's daughter Margarita letting the group know of Elena's death and included a story about her mother and the sandwich written by Rosendo Rosell, a well-known Cuban actor, composer and newspaper columnist.
If anyone is interested in reading that story, please send me an e-mail and I will gladly share it.
Elena Ruz Sandwich
1 medianoche bun
Roasted slices of turkey
Medianoche buns are not available in Hawai'i and the recipes I've tried never turned out the way they should. The closest thing I can find here is Portuguese bread or a good challah, so that is what I use.
Spread generous amounts of cream cheese on one side of the bun and strawberry jam on the other. Place turkey slices in between. Butter the outside of the bun on both sides and place on a hot skillet pressing down and turning it until golden on both sides.
No lettuce or anything else is added to this sandwich. If someone serves you a sandwich they claim is an Elena Ruz with lettuce or anything else besides cream cheese, strawberry jam and turkey slices in it, they don't know what they're doing!