An Ode to the Francesinha

We briefly hinted to how much we loved francesinha in our Porto Five Insider Tips. Do you want to know what it is, and why we loved it so much? 

Porto Cross Stairs
Get ready to walk up the stairs to burn off that francesinha!

Walking around Porto, you’ll see people tucking into a funny-looking sandwich on a plate, covered in melted cheese and a strange red-orange sauce. At a first glance, it doesn’t look appetising at all. It looks as if each bite would increase your chances of a heart attack by two thousand percent.

Our friend Marcelo recommended we tried one, even one to share, before leaving the city. We spent some days resisting the urge of trying a francesinha, but soon our legendary gluttony won, and we finally tucked into this crazy sandwich. We were told it is the kind of thing you only ever try once, battle through, and then never taste again.

Porto River
Nothing better than looking at the sunset with a belly full of food

I am kind of weird when it comes to food; I am a durian-lover, after all.

Guess what. We didn’t have a francesinha. We had two.

What is francesinha? As it’s the case with many dishes, its origins are a mistery. The name francesinha translates as ‘little Frenchie’; it is believed that an émigré returning from France decided to adapt croque monsieur to the Portuguese taste. Other versions relate the origins back to the late 19th century, during Porto’s harbour heyday.

Porto Tile Church
The wonderful azulejos of Porto, on the way to our first francesinha

There are several variations on the theme of Francesinha; with prawns, with mushrooms, cooked in a wood-fired oven. The bottom line remains a thick white bread sandwich, filled with a variety of meats, including ham, bacon, linguiça (thin smoked pork sausage), chouriço (spicy pork sausage), roast meat and steak.

The whole thing is covered in melted cheese in croque-monsieur style, but it is with the sauce that the magic of the francesinha really comes alive. Every francesinha establishment has their own sauce, kept under lock and key like a family heirloom. Ingredients include tomato sauce and beer. The rest? We’re not sure.

Francesinha #1 A Regaleira (Rua do Bonjardim 87)

Porto Francesinha
Francesinha from Restaurante A Regaleira

We had the first francesinha from A Regaleira, a restaurant in downtown Porto. I fell in love with this place as soon as we walked past, one sweltering evening, on our way to the river. I loved the tacky neon sign, the grumpy waiters and its faded elegance, not unlike Porto itself.

One day we skipped lunch, we were famished by seven o’clock and when we saw A Regaleira open, we thought now it’s the time. We ordered two francesinhas and two beers and after one bite we were hooked. The thick slices of bread revealed a filling of roast pork, ham and crispy linguiça. And the sauce! I still dream of that sauce, rich and thick and with just the right amount of spice.

Francesinha #2 Bufete Fase (Rua da Santa Caterina 1147)

Porto Francesinha from Bufete Fase

After the experience at A Regaleira, I knew that we had to have another francesinha. A Regaleira was not elegant (it may have been fifty years ago) but it still had a ‘restaurant’ atmosphere, so I wanted to have my second francesinha from a dingy bar, or something along those lines.

We were recommended to go to Bufete Fase, a café kind of place that specialises in francesinhas. As soon as we saw it, on the far end of Rua Santa Catarina away from the centre, we knew we got the right place. Bufete Fase is tiny, with only three tables inside, and there were a dozen people waiting outside.

They just serve francesinha, and the quality is outstanding. Inside the sandwich you’ll find roast pork, ham and a steak. Yes, a steak, cooked medium rare. The whole thing was topped by a chargriled linguiça, plus the obligatory mountain of cheese and sauce. The sauce was different from the other one; more tomatoey, definitely tasted homemade, but it lacked the spicy kick that the other one had.

The Verdict? #1 for the sauce, #2 for the filling.

Porto Cathedral Sé
Luckily Porto is full of churches on top of hills!

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten?

42 thoughts on “An Ode to the Francesinha”

  1. WOW, I have never heard of these sandwiches before. Have you ever been to Lisbon? Do you know if they have these sandwiches there? We are going to Portugal for the first time ever in July and I CANNOT WAIT!! Porto was number one on my list but we decided to see Lisbon first and hopefully Porto next year! I’ve bookmarked this post so I can remember to order a Francesinha!!

    Angie from reasons to dress, life as a North American mom in Italy.

    • I’m sure you could find it in Lisbon, you probably just need to look a bit harder for it. I’m sure it will be great!

  2. It was the Czech Republic where we temporarily denounced our vegetarianism. We were tempted to repeat our omnivore adventure in Porto, though. Where on our first night there we survived on a diet of chestnuts and port. Good on you for tucking into a francesinha, guys.

  3. I MUST visit Porto like right now! The way everything looks is perfect – from food to churches. I gotta taste Francesinha, never heard of it too. Thanks for a tip!

    P.S. The craziest thing I tried methinks was some wild Asian soup and I’m not even sure what was inside. Surprisingly, it tasted yummy!

  4. You know a foodie place is good if it only has three tables but a dozen people queuing! I REALLY need to try this! See, now I’m hungry, this is why I shouldn’t read posts like this!

    • I totally agree with you Michael, queue in small places means good! Glad I made you hungry, that was my intention!

  5. When I lived in Lisbon, the francesinha was my go-to dish after a late night dancing with friends. You captured the gooey loveliness nicely in your photos. I didn’t know that the sauces were such guarded secrets up north…may need to create one of my own to see if I can market it.

  6. Wow, those francesinhas look really good and tasty! I had never heard of them before but then again, many people may not have heard about “tosti” which is a typical Dutch toasted sandwich…

    • I certainly didn’t know there were so many delicious Dutch street specialties, I remember you mentioned kroket in another comment, I would love to try it!

  7. Looks really good! I´m not really sure but I think I had it when in Porto 5,6 years ago. We were hosted by a guy from there (I was still using hospitality club, CS wasn´t that big back then) who said that we really have to try that dish and took us to a local restaurant…I remember I loved it too 🙂

    • Hey Elena! I guess you should go back to Porto then, and make sure you have another francesinha!

  8. WOW! Porto looks amazing. We have added it to our ever growing list. Not a food exactly, but the oddest thing we have tried was probably cat poo coffee. Not as gross as it sounds and actually pretty good when you get over the process

  9. Looks really interesting with the cheese around and the sauce. But as I am vegetarian it´s not really the food to try but I heard they have great desserts too in Porto.

    • Hey Karen! It’s more popular in Porto than Lisbon, and it’s totally amazing, you must try it!

  10. Looks wonderfully delicious. I adore croque-monsieurs, and this looks like a distant cousin. Although it’s interesting how the whole thing is marinated in sauce.. what a nice twist 🙂

  11. I’ve never heard of a Francesinha before but I’ll be sure to try it if I get to visit Portugal. 🙂 I’m sure i could devour two before dropping into a weeks food coma! 🙂
    Can’t really think of anything strange or crazy that I have eaten. I had some pretty gruesome looking curries in Myanmar but oh my they were delicious!

    • Hey Samantha! I’m sure you would love francesinha, but I’m not sure about having two in a row, still worth a try though! You’re so right about Myanmar food, so delicious and underrated!

  12. Oh man! That is a crazy looking sandwich! I went to Porto a few years ago but never came across them! I don’t know if I would have had the guts to try it! Maybe next time.. haha.

    • Hey Christine! It’s delicious, but definitely not good for veggies! Having said that, you should try it if you ever feel up to the challenge!

  13. Margherita, Now you have my mouth watering. I’m thinking a trip to Portugal just for a franceshinh is really not at all out of the question! Hmmmmm.

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