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An Introduction to the Francesinha

An Introduction to the Francesinha

Picture of Nina Santos
Updated: 16 January 2017
Don’t be confused by the name francesinha (meaning ‘little Frenchie’ or ‘little French lady’); there is nothing little or dainty about this dish. In fact, Porto, Portugal may have created the mother ship of sandwiches and an icon for comfort food. Packed with three to five different types of meat, drowning in sauce and smothered in cheese, this calorie bomb on a plate is not for the faint hearted (nor the weak stomach). If you are up to the challenge, however, get ready for an unforgettable experience as it’s one of the top dishes to try in Portugal and a favorite of residents and tourists alike.

The francesinha hails from Porto, but the idea was inspired by French cuisine, specifically the croque monsieur toasted sandwich. As the story goes, after Portugal’s dictatorship fell, migrants (who had previously fled the government) returned to their homeland, many from nearby France. Upon his return, one man decided to reinvent the French croque monsieur to satisfy Portuguese palates, and in the 1960s, the francesinha was born.

This recipe can be found in restaurants all over Portugal, but the best places are arguably located in Porto. Each chef and venue incorporate their own personalities and special touches, so finding the best sandwich for your taste buds is up to you and your sleuthing skills. The sauce is particularly special, and a secret to boot. Its main ingredients include beer and tomato, but the rest is a mystery. The spine of the sandwich remains the same, however, and is composed of bread, steak, sausage (sometimes two or more different types), and cured ham. Some venues add roasted pork to the mix. Floating in its special sauce, topped with melted cheese and sometimes a fried egg, and usually surrounded by a halo of french fries – it’s the perfect pub food to go with a thin glass of beer (or fino, in Portuguese).

Sorry vegetarians and health-foodies, but this isn’t the dish for you. Everyone else, jump on the francesinha bandwagon! The time to indulge has never been better now that we’re tight in winter’s clutches, and Portuguese cuisine is known for its satisfying flavors and filling portions. The francesinha is unique, however, and sits in a category all of its own, giving new meaning to both sandwiches and steak dinners. Depending on the chef, diners can expect a varying range of spice and flavor, and some critiques note a spiciness to the sauce. The meat and cheese used will also affect the overall flavor.

When in Porto, do as the Portuguese do. Sipping port wine, visiting the beach, strolling along the Douro River, and setting aside time for indulging in a francesinha are all musts for most itineraries. Just remember that you may want to prepare a light breakfast before your culinary adventure, as well as take a long walk afterward.