Porto is known the world over as the home of fortified port wine but it has another epicurean product that is not yet as well known. A Porto specialty since the 1950s, the Francesinha may have started out its culinary life in Restaurante a Regaleira, a restaurant still going strong all these years later. A French chef is credited for coming up with the dish, which translates from Portuguese as ‘little Frenchie’, as a new take on the classic French croque-monsieur.
The Francesinha is fundamentally a cheese and ham sandwich that looks like it exploded. The recipe for a Francesinha runs roughly as follows, with all sorts of variations and individual opinions as to its exact make up. The fundamentals are: two slices of white bread, grilled sausage and steak, slices of smoked ham and cheese. A piquant sauce blended together and cooked over a low heat of beer, chicken stock, brandy, chili flakes, cayenne pepper, tomato paste, onion and milk. The method is straightforward: assemble the sandwich and add slices of cheese on top. Pour the heated sauce over the sandwich so the cheese melts. Enjoy.
The Francesinha can also come served with salad, fries or an egg on top. It’s stodgy, laden with calories and absolutely delicious. Don’t try and order it as a takeaway. This is a seriously big and deliciously messy dish that deserves careful attention, a dish to sit down to and eat with respect. Vegetarian options are increasingly on offer, and may switch the meat for eggplant or simply add more cheese.
According to local experts, who recently took on the onerous task of discovering the best Francesinha in town, Café Majestic on Rua Santa Catarina and Bufete Fase on Rua Santa Catarina came up trumps. Wherever you eat one, it is such a part of Porto’s culture that visitors can take courses in how to make a proper one. The Francesinha is as much part of Porto’s heritage as its famous port wine made in the Douro valley and Portugal’s other great wine, the young, dry vinho verde.
Learn more about local food on a Porto Food and Wine Tasting tour.