The day before I left Lisboa for Porto, my friend Bruno told me ‘you have to eat Francesinha in Porto.’ ‘What is Francesinha?’ I asked. It’s a sandwich with bread, steak, sausage, cheese, bacon, bread, more cheese, egg and a sauce poured over. Then served with chips (chips as in French fries, not crisps). It means little French girl in Portuguese and it was invented in Porto.
When I arrived in Porto, I went to the hostel of my first preference. I didn’t have a booking, because I really am that disorganised when travelling alone. Unfortunately, the hostel was full (shows me!). However the young man in the hostel spent 30 minutes recommending places to eat. Miguel said ‘do you know about Francesinha?’ When I said yes, and asked for a recommendation of a specific restaurant to try Francesinha, he told me there are places where you can get a Francesinha for €6-7 but they’re not that good, or you can spend around €10 and have a really good one with better ingredients. Obrigada! I went off to find a hostel.
When I arrived at a hostel that had beds available, and was checked in, I messaged my friend Marco to tell him I was in Porto. Marco and I met in Turkey 5 years ago. He was travelling with his friend João, and we met in Antalya, went to the Italian opera together (performed in a Roman theatre, by a Ukrainian opera company, in Turkey), then we all met again in Olympos and had a fun day at the beach. We kept in touch on Facebook, so when I was planning my trip to Portugal, I messaged him to see if he wanted to catch up. Marco suggested we meet for dinner. Then he said ‘have you tried Francesinha?’ Are you seeing a theme? This is a very famous sandwich!
Marco recommended the same place that Miguel in the hostel had recommended. We met near my hostel and walked to the Santiago Café. There was a large queue of people outside, probably about 20-25 people waiting. Usually on a Monday, it wouldn’t be so busy. However, Portugal was still celebrating – they became European football champions the night before! Marco put his name down and we stood outside chatting and catching up.
Santiago Café has a proper menu, but I doubt many people order from it. I saw a few other small items come out of the kitchen – some croquettes, a bowl of soup, but everyone was having Francesinha. There are a few options – you can have the sauce on the side, or the sandwich without the egg, or you can opt out of the chips. But I didn’t see a gluten free option or a meat free option. Although I found out the next day on my Porto Walking Tour that there are a few places that make a vegetarian Francesinha.
We ordered our traditional Francesinhas (if you’re feeling really hungry, you can opt in for double meat!). It’s a bit intimidating to look at when it arrives at your table. About 5-6cm tall, and surrounded by batatas fritas, with not a green thing in sight. I can’t remember the last time I ate a meal this unhealthy! Since it has melted cheese and a fried egg on top, this isn’t a sandwich you can pick up. I ate it with a knife and fork, and about 2/3 of the way through, I began to feel fairly full. Marco told me that you have to finish your Francesinha, otherwise you look like a wimpy tourist. Always up for a challenge, I set out to finish the mighty sandwich. A local beer definitely helped to wash it down.
Verdict? It’s a pretty tasty sandwich. I especially like the sauce, which they say is spicy, but it’s not really. It does taste different to other sauces though. I don’t think I could eat Francesinha very often if I lived in Porto. Perhaps once or twice a year. However definitely a must do for Porto, and I could see some re-creations happening with local meat in Wellington!