Visiting Porto: The Mighty Francesinha
Every city has its quirky signature dish that sets it apart. Chicago has deep dish pizza, Halifax has donairs, Osaka has okonomiyaki and Shanghai has xiaolongbao (you know, those awesome steamed dumplings filled with crab soup). Porto has the Francesinha, a sandwich of epic proportions.
The Francesihna is bad-ass. It’s not a sandwich for sissies. It’s disgustingly massive, full of any kind of meat you could conjure up in your mind. It’s really, really bad for you, which means it tastes amazing. The idea of it leaves you flustered – there’s no way it makes any logical sense.
Whoever invented it (some say it was a guy named Daniel Da Silva who wanted to make a Portuguese-friendly version of a croque monsieur) just threw every kind of available meat into a sandwich with cheese and then smothered it in a tangy, rich sauce.
In other, more simpler words: it’s heaven.
As a Canadian, the best way I can describe a Francesinha is as such: it tastes like poutine, Swiss Chalet sauce and a Montreal smoked meat sandwich had a delicious love child. Any Canadian will agree: this is the best combination of things, ever.
In actuality, the sandwich usually consists of beef fillet, mortadella, cured ham, regular ham, roast pork, cheese and two kinds of sausages. The bread is unremarkable, especially for a country that boasts delicious, crusty loaves, but that said, the bread isn’t supposed to be the star of the show. It just holds all the other, more awesome bits together.
When the sandwich is assembled, it’s covered in more cheese and then broiled to allow the cheese to melt. Then, the whole thing is smothered in a sauce that is usually made with a combination of beer and tomatoes, though each establishment has their own recipe and will never divulge exactly what goes into it. Honestly, it tastes exactly like Chalet sauce.
The best place in Porto to get a Francesinha, we were told, is at Café Santiago on Rua Passos Manuel. The portions here are massive: large triple decker sandwiches surrounded by a sea of crisp French fries. They smother the sandwich in the perfect amount of sauce – nothing is soggy, per se, but everything is covered (and there’s enough sauce left to dip your fries).
A regular Francesinha with fries cost €9.25, while the Francesinha à Santiago (topped with an egg) cost €9.50. It’s good value considering the amount of food you’re getting, but Café Santiago is also one of the more expensive Francesinha joints in town. You can get one at nearly any snack food restaurant for around €5.00. It just won’t be as good.
Francesinha are usually washed down with copious amounts of Sagres or Super Bock (the Portuguese beers of choice). We had our baby with us, so one beer each sufficed. A cold Super Bock with the meaty, salty sandwich is really a match made in heaven.
In the end, the sandwich defeated me. I just couldn’t eat all that meat in one sitting. Pat, on the other hand, seemed like he’d been eating Francesinha all his life and gave me a good smirk over his empty plate.
You win this time, Francesinha, but I’ll be back.