The Francesinha is not only a typical Portuguese sandwich, it is so iconic that it is considered the queen, if not of Portugal, certainly of the city of Porto. Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, is in fact famous not only for its namesake wine -a must-have on the list of things to taste in Portugal- but also for this dish that looks as delicious as caloric.
The name of such a dish is not coincidentally reminiscent of the homeland of the well-known “Monsieur et Madame Croque”: in fact, anyone who has been to France will surely have come across one of the typical local dishes, Croque Monsieur, also found in the Croque Madame variant. The Croque Monsieur is a toast inside of which is ham and the outside of which is then covered with cheese and béchamel; the Croque Madame additionally features a fried egg placed as a “crown” on top of the cheese pouring.
Why the Francesinha is not a sandwich
But why am I telling you about these very light dishes? Because the Francesinha was born precisely in memory of -and even a bit in defiance of- that French toast. The “francesinha” is the Portuguese version of French toast, designed to be digested with a good glass of Port and a few hours of walking along the banks of the Duero, the river that bisects the city of Porto (if you want to find out the 10+1 things not to miss in Porto, read this article!).
Eating the Francesinha is a true mystical experience: the “sandwich” is so filled that you must use a knife and fork to eat it! Bread, an ingredient that usually turns out to be primary in a sandwich, disappears under the tower of ingredients of which the Francesinha is composed: mortadella, sausage, beef, ham, cheese and fried egg are the real stars of the dish; and to keep the calories in check, it is customary to serve it covered with a spicy meat sauce and a side of fries. In short, not one of the lighter dishes on the Portuguese menu, but definitely one not to be missed on a trip to Porto.
Where and how to eat Francesinha
Like any self-respecting traditional recipe, Her Majesty the Queen of Port also has its secrets , and each restaurante where it is cooked adds its own unique touch of flavor. A number of bars and small restaurants in the city have gained relevant notoriety for the goodness of the Francesinha, the first among them surely being the Café Santiago, on Rua de Passos Manuel, a place that I can’t help but recommend to you because, as touristy as it is, if it is so well known there must be a reason.
Another very typical restaurant where locals use to eat francesinha is called “Barcarola.” There are 2 in the city and they are not very “touristy.”
However, the more one travels, the more one discovers how it is often the less traveled and more unexpected places that turn out to be little hidden gems, making the experience – culinary and otherwise – a precious and unique memory. In fact, if you have time, the suggestion is to treat yourself to a nice stroll through the back streets of the city, letting your intuition and nose guide you, stopping to peek into seemingly unfamiliar bars and choosing the designated place to indulge in Francesinha and other typical Portuguese dishes based on the sensations that place gives you. If your stomach can handle it or if you have company, you might even opt for a double experience: split a Francesinha at one of the top bars on the list and then eat the second half at a less touristy establishment, so you can leave the final judgment to your palate.
On how to eat it, well, the Francesinha has only two rules: arrive on a well-empty stomach and, most important, enjoy every bite until the last forkful.
Whether or not you decide to follow my itinerary in Porto, trust me, a taste at the “Queen of Porto” is to be put on the agenda! And if you try it, let me know what you think.
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