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Try anything once: the Francesinha

Our features editor, a former vegetarian, visited Café Santiago in Porto to sample the city’s notoriously meaty signature sandwich: the francesinha

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.’

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