Devil Crab

Food fusion, Ybor City style

Once a way to fight hunger during strikes, devil crab became an Ybor City classic and a way for many to make a living.

Whether you know it as devil crab or deviled crab, these spicy croquettes are a dish unique to Ybor much like the Cuban sandwich and is closely tied to the cigar factories and immigration. While many point to the cigar factory strike of 1920 as being the origin of these snacks, it is likely they were brought over from Spain as a Spanish croquette and transformed by the Cuban, Spanish, and Italian communities. Due to how inexpensive devil crab was to make, the cigar factory strike of 1920 helped to popularize it into a Tampa favorite.

The cigar factory strike of 1920 was not the first cigar factory strike in Ybor, nor would it be the last. Factory workers had an uneasy relationship with higher-ups in the cigar manufacturing business. Efforts to form unions with bargaining powers routinely failed, and the Tampa Cigar Manufacturer's association tightly controlled the wages of workers. Following the end of World War One, cigar workers demanded increased wages to combat higher costs of living and inflation. Their demands were not met, leading to a 10 month strike starting in the spring of 1920. Unions around the country raised funds for the cigar workers, who were also kept fed by soup kitchens and union-funded restaurants. In response, manufacturers destroyed these establishments, leading strikers to find other alternatives to fill their stomachs. The easy answer was crab. Though difficult to find today, blue crab were once very plentiful in the Tampa Bay. Cigar workers would catch and cook crabs, seasoning the meat with spices and wrapping it in a dough made from Cuban bread and breadcrumbs. Bread for these croquettes was often day-old, the undesirable parts that could not be sold. Cheap and easy to make, it not only was convenient to eat on the go but was easy to sell on the street to make extra money during the strike.

While many ate homemade devil crab or sold them for extra money, some began to sell them on the streets after the end of the strike full-time. One of the most notable vendors is Francisco Oscar Miranda. A Cuban immigrant, Miranda rode around on a motorized bike with a crab logo and compartment for his food, selling devil crab from the 1920s-1953. At first, he sold them on his own, but as popularity grew, he employed men and boys to deliver his devil crab for him. On any given afternoon, Ybor and West Tampa residents could expect to hear "jaibita caliente!" and buy a hot croquette for ten to fifteen cents. Many high schoolers attending the old Jefferson High School on Highland Ave. also remember being able to buy devil crab from a Miranda cart outside after school. While devil crab can no longer be bought from boys on bicycles, a number of restaurants across Ybor City and the Tampa area still sell devil crab today. One notable restaurant is the Seabreeze restaurant, which first started making devil crabs with meat fresh from the bay in 1929.