When I showed a picture of a Francesinha to friends on Facebook, one described it as “a heart attack on a plate”. That may well be what it is, but Porto has been enjoying the Francesinha since at least the 1960s, and possibly as far back as the 19th Century.
Francesinha translates as “little Frenchie” – or French toast perhaps. It’s effectively inspired by “croque monsieur”, and its invention is credited to Portuguese emigrant Daniel da Silva who returned from living in France and Belgium. Some claim it dates before his time though, so perhaps he perfected it.
Mind you, perfection in a Francesinha is a subjective thing because they taste slightly different everywhere you go. Many restaurants and cafés do their own versions, and sometimes it’s the ambience of the establishment that makes the eating experience enjoyable more than the food on the plate.
A Francesinha is basically toast, steak, sausage, ham, egg and a wonderful spicy (“picante”) sauce usually containing beer and tomato, poured over melted cheese. The sauce is the secret that each restaurant keeps for itself, and the ingredients inside the Francesinha may vary.
For first timers, I would recommend BBGourmet – an upmarket restaurant where the steak inside their Francesinha is deluxe. Perhaps the best place to enjoy a Francesinha is at Cufra in Avenida da Boavista – set out in a diner style with lots of waiters, a big screen showing sport and, if you like, the ability to eat at the bar where draft beer is served.
If you are living in Porto and you want to find other places to try out a Francesinha, a great place to start is a website dedicated to the dish: Francesinhas.com.