When asked in my school last week to name the most influential, admirable people in history, I came up with the Earl of Sandwich. The one who invented the sandwich, I mean. I also often offer the Sandwich as one of the great cultural exports of the United Kingdom, when asked. Bearing all this in mind, the Francesinha is, without doubt, something I was very excited about when moving to Portugal. I live in Lisbon, of course, some 300 and more kilometres from the Francesinha’s spiritual home of Porto. But still, you can find a good Francesinha here, if you know where to look.
The ‘little French girl,’ if we are to use it’s name in translation, was invented by a Portuguese from Minho who, returning to his homeland from France, brought with him the idea of the croque monsieur, another of the world’s great sandwiches. Once back in Portugal, he made it a little more palatable for his Portuguese brethren, and created the Francesinha. The recipe varies, but is usually comprised of a beef steak, ham and/or sausage, cheese, more bread, more cheese, sometimes a fried egg and then a tomato, alcohol, piri piri and who knows what else based sauce. It’s a monster sandwich and is usually served with an additional plate of chips. It’s the thing I usually take my tougher guy friends to try, when they visit me. The name comes from the fact that the inventor felt French girls were the “spiciest” he’d ever encountered. No comment from me.
This week though, we Lisboetas have something of a treat. 4 Francesinha houses from Porto are here, at Lisbon’s FIL centre at Expo, Parque das Nações, showing us southerners how it’s done. And boy, are they doing it well. I went along today to see what the “real thing” was like.
My girlfriend, perhaps folornly, remarked that she’d never seen me as happy as when we arrived. We walked in to the pavilion where the sandwich magic was happening and ordered our dishes. There is a fixed price menu, so whichever Francesinha you go for, you’ll pay 10 euros, plus an extra 2 for your chips. I also paid 2 euros for a can of coke. Had I not been working later today, I could have paid less for a beer. Sometimes life isn’t fair.
Once into the Francesinha making hall, there were 4 trucks, where they had various kitchens set up. One had an intriguing set up and were offering a large prawn on top of the sandwich, instead of the egg, another place was showing off about the quality of the ham, but my choice was made when I saw the real wood ovens that were being used by one particular group of chefs, to brown off the cheese at the end of the cooking process.
It was made even better when the guy in charge of the wood oven called me over as my Franceisnha was finished, so I could see the difference from when it first started. The cheese was browned off perfectly and the whole thing had cooked together, like a lasagna, a mousakka, or a shepherd’s pie, or something equally as glorious.
When it was finally delivered to my table, it was beautifully put together, with two steaks and a slice of linguiça with peppercorns and garlic comprising most of the filling. There was also a generous portion of the Francesinha sauce, so that I could keep the sandwich moist throughout and dip my chips.
I should mention that the Francesinha is something of a calorie bomb. During eating, I joked that I might be able to eat a second one, as I was enjoying it so much but, within about three minutes of finishing it, I felt like I’d eaten a car. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend going along and trying it out.
The festival continues until tomorrow and what better way to enjoy your day off than by absorbing a bit of northern culture and having a truly kingly feed? You’ll find the details of the festival here: