Porto’s heart attack on a plate

It was simultaneously the most disgusting and awesome thing I’ve ever eaten.

A sandwich filled with five kinds of meat, topped with an egg and melted cheese, dripping in a sauce made from beer and surrounded by chips.

The layers of a francesinha

Yep, that’s francesinha. A traditional Portuguese dish.

Urgh my stomach churns at the mere memory of having eaten this and it was nearly a week ago.

Part of me wants seconds, but francesinha is not the kind of dish most people will ever try twice. Not if they value their health. How Portugal isn’t higher on the “world’s fattest countries” list is a mystery. (It’s not even in the top 10!)

When you arrive in Porto, the birthplace of francesinha, everyone will tell you to try it and start circling their favourite restaurant on your map. If you don’t stop them, they may also launch into the story behind the dish.

Francesinha topped with cheese

While francesinha looks like a plate of leftovers dished up for a dog you don’t like very much, it’s origin is slightly more gourmet. It’s a Portuguese take on the French dish croque monsieur, which is a glorified toasted ham and cheese sandwich. The man credited with the creation is Daniel da Silva, who returned to Portugal in the 1960s having lived in France and Belgium. It seems he felt the traditional French dish was lacking a lot of extra meat and a secret sauce. I’m not sure if the surrounding sea of chips was his idea or if later generations felt the need to make it even more artery-clogging.

Each chef puts their own spin on the dish and sauce recipes are closely guarded. Some will include tomatoes or wine, but nearly all will have beer. There are all sorts of “special” versions of francesinha and even vegetarian options. My friend and I took the traditional route and I went to Café Santiago, as recommended by the girl at our hostel.

Cheesy Francesinha

Our francesinha was filled with fresh sausage, beef, ham, mortadella (a thick Italian sausage), linguica (a smoked sausage flavoured with garlic and paprika) and of course, a special sauce. It was also topped with egg and cheese, although I’m dairy free so skipped the cheese.

And the cost of this heart attack-inducing specialty? Just €9.50. How to shave five years off your life for less than €10.

Cheese-less francesinha

The trick with eating francesinha is not to think about it. If you do, you’ll struggle to swallow the disgusting forkful of soggy meat and bread you just put in your mouth. If I’ve made this sound disgusting then I’ve misled you. It actually tastes great.

I ate mine disturbingly quickly. Then I sat back in my chair, guzzled my water (I couldn’t bring myself to order a beer, which is the traditional accompaniment for the sandwich) and waited to feel sick. But it never came.

All done.

Full disclosure: We almost considered dessert on the walk home. I blame the hills.

5 comments

  1. This looks both terrifying AND terrific. I’m asking myself how I never knew such a frankenstein of food existed. Of all the very many reasons to visit Portugal, I’d say trying this is at the top of my list! You are my hero for eating the whole thing!

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