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Try anything once: the Francesinha

Words ORLA THOMAS @orlathomas Photographs ADRIENNE PITTS @hellopoe

THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME I’D BEEN SCARED of a sandwich, but then it was my first encounter with the francesinha. Raised vegetarian, and still squeamish about non-plant proteins, I didn’t relish the thought of sampling Porto’s meat-crammed signature dish. A four-inch stack of thick bread stuffed with wet-cured ham, linguiqa (cured sausage) and steak, smothered with melted cheese, bathed in tomato-based sauce and topped with an egg, it’s a full meal - celebratorily carnivorous - masquerading as a sandwich.

The francesinha’s name - meaning ‘little Frenchie’ - nods to its origins across Europe. ‘The story goes that, back in the 1950s, a chef returning from France took a job at A Regaleira restaurant, now closed,’ says Andre Apolinario, co-founder of Taste Porto Food Tours, as he guides me through downtown’s backstreets. ‘He had leftover pork that needed using, so he cut open a croque monsieur and started adding layers of meat, finally putting spicy sauce on top - and that was the francesinha’s birthday.’

Established in 1959, Cafe Santiago has been serving the dish almost since then, and is regarded as one of the best francesinha joints in the city. Taking a seat in its bright dining room by Praqa dos Poveiros, I am reassured to see so many locals tucking in during their lunch hour. As we await our order, Andre explains that chefs all have their own take on the dish - particularly the sauce. ‘Some make it with beer, some add port wine. Many keep their recipe a secret. I don’t know my mum’s! She doesn’t even have it in writing, it’s all in her head,’ he says. ‘At a restaurant called 0 Golfinho only the owner knows the recipe. If he isn’t working, there’s no francesinha that day.’

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Lonely Planet
June 2019

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