Meeting Francesinha

There have been no blog posts on Mysterious Beans for over a month, while we have driven almost 10,000km around Europe, and then when we do break the silence the first thing that I decide to write about is a sandwich.

But there are sandwiches, and then, there are sandwiches…

The menu that we ordered from described this as a ‘Porto’s favourite snack’, but believe me when I say that this is no mere snack. It’s a  big saucy mess of a thing, a huge amount of calories, a vegan’s nightmare, and I think that I like it.

Ok, but what is a Francesinha?

It’s a sandwich that you will find literally everywhere in Porto and hardly anywhere outside of Portugal and it is a sandwich with a story.

The most popular version is that in the 1960’s Daniel da Silva, a Portuguese immigrant who had been living in France (like hundreds of thousands of others attempting to escape the dictatorship of Salazar) retired and returned home to Alentejo  where he opened a cafe. To set the place apart from all of the other cafes and bars around he needed some kind of killer dish, so he took some inspiration from the French Croque Monsieur and created a whole new beast of a sandwich, one that used plenty of Portuguese ingredients in addition to the ham and cheese borrowed from the original.

Sadly for Daniel his creation wasn’t a hit in Alentejo but later on he moved to Porto where the locals definitely appreciated his culinary efforts far more, so much so that the dish is indelibly linked with the city.

There is no standard recipe for the sandwich but it will follow the same basic formula wherever you find one….

Two pieces of toasted bread with an array of meats between them, typically pork, two types of sausage, ham or bacon and maybe a beef steak. Cover this lot with melted cheese, possibly add a fried egg on top, and then cover everything with a rich spicy beer and tomato based sauce. It is most commonly served with a big pile of chips and it is a thing of wonder. 

So this REALLY is not a light snack at all, rather it is a meal that requires time and dedication to eat, and preferably a nice cold beer or a few glasses of fino to go along with it. 

What’s in a name?

Of course every creation of culinary genius deserves a catchy name and this one is no exception, ‘Francesinha‘ literally means ‘Little French girl‘, maybe just a nod to the country of it’s inspiration or according to some Sr. da Silva’s comment on the  hotness and spiciness of the French women he had known compared to those in Portugal.

Oh, and in case you are thinking that the picture at the top of the article looks more like a bridge than a sandwich. The Francesinha is not Porto’s only link with France, the  Ponte de Dona Maria Pia is the work of Gustav Eiffel, the French civil engineer of Parisian tower fame. 

This sandwich put up a good fight, but man won in the end!