When I showed a picture of a Francesinha to friends on Facebook, one described it as “a heart attack on a plate”. That may well be what it is, but Porto has been enjoying the Francesinha since at least the 1960s, and possibly as far back as the 19th Century.
Francesinha translates as “little Frenchie” – or French toast perhaps. It’s effectively inspired by “croque monsieur”, and its invention is credited to Portuguese emigrant Daniel da Silva who returned from living in France and Belgium. Some claim it dates before his time though, so perhaps he perfected it.
Mind you, perfection in a Francesinha is a subjective thing because they taste slightly different everywhere you go. Many restaurants and cafés do their own versions, and sometimes it’s the ambience of the establishment that makes the eating experience enjoyable more than the food on the plate.
A Francesinha is basically toast, steak, sausage, ham, egg and a wonderful spicy (“picante”) sauce usually containing beer and tomato, poured over melted cheese. The sauce is the secret that each restaurant keeps for itself, and the ingredients inside the Francesinha may vary.
For first timers, I would recommend BBGourmet – an upmarket restaurant where the steak inside their Francesinha is deluxe. Perhaps the best place to enjoy a Francesinha is at Cufra in Avenida da Boavista – set out in a diner style with lots of waiters, a big screen showing sport and, if you like, the ability to eat at the bar where draft beer is served.
If you are living in Porto and you want to find other places to try out a Francesinha, a great place to start is a website dedicated to the dish: Francesinhas.com.
How to make a Francesinha
For the sandwich
- 2 thin slices of rye bread
- 4 thin slices of ham
- 60g of Sirloin steak
- 1 linguiça (liverwurst, or smoked sausage)
- 1 sausage
- 15g butter
- 3 think slices Dutch cheese
For the sauce
- 200ml seafood sauce
- 350ml beer
- 100ml white wine
- 100ml brandy/whisky
- 150ml tomato sauce
- 1tbsp Worcestorshire sauce
- 1tsp mustard
- 1 onion
- 1tbsp butter
Toast the bread, brush with the melted butter and fry the steak, sausage and linguiça. Between the slices of bread, put the ham, steak and sausage cut in the middle as well as the linguiça.
Cover with the cheese and put in the oven until it melts. Boil the sauce ingredients and then cover the Francesinha with the sauce to serve.
Watch a video of a Francesinha being made
Ingredients can vary according to preference.