La Francesinha, the iconic Porto sandwich

It is impossible to describe la francesinha without offending someone. A quintessential northern Portugal dish of Porto, “francesinha” loosely translates to “the French girl” and consists of an abundance of what Anthony Bourdain called “the immortal combination.” That is, meat, cheese, butter and bread. Specifically: bread, cheese, ham, chorizo, steak, mortadella, bread, egg and cheese, bathed in spicy tomato sauce and beer.

Layered and assembled like an elaborate sandwich, the francesinha has been called many things by foreign food and travel writers over the years, from “intestinal bomb” (rick steve) to “gut buster” (The Guardian).

Regardless of whether you call francesinha “immortal,” as Bourdain did, or unimaginatively iconic (as I do), it’s a dish that has stirred controversy since its inception. As is the case with all iconic foods, people argue about its origins and where in the city you can get the best francesinhas (most will point you to Café Santiago; Bourdain recommended O Afonso).

Although some believe that the francesinha arrived in Portugal with the French troops that invaded the north of the country during the Napoleonic wars, most agree that the story goes that the francesinha was invented by a man named Daniel da Silva in the 1980s. 1950. Here, the story forks in two. First, some say it was called francesinha because local people had trouble pronouncing “croque monsieur,” the dish that supposedly inspired francesinha. (However, it’s worth noting here that the addition of the egg actually turned the sandwich into a croque madame.) Supposedly, da Silva, a Belgian and French émigré, adapted croque monsieur to Portuguese tastes, garnishing it with spark and tomato along with linguiça (smoke-cured pork sausage). Meanwhile, others say the name was a tribute to his French girlfriend, whom da Silva (always romantic) believed was “strong and racy like no other woman in the world.”

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What is perhaps most interesting about the dish is that it was subject to a gender division when it was invented. In his 2020 article, “The Slow Cultural Cuisine of the ‘Francesinha,'” Manuel Teles Fernandes points out that when the dish first appeared on the scene, it was considered a snack. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, it remained a dish to be enjoyed by young men; it was to be “served after hours when groups of friends gather for a late night bite”.

By contrast, Fernandes writes, older men were “conservative” in their food choices, but women who dared to try it had a bad reputation. At the time, it was believed inappropriate for women to be seen eating spicy food in public, a cultural taboo spawned by the myth that eating spicy food changed a woman’s behavior.

Today the dish is enjoyed by men and women alike, with an estimated 1,500 restaurants across Porto including it on their menus. Accompanied by a sauce boat containing the tomato and beer sauce (which vary in flavor due to carefully guarded recipes that vary from establishment to establishment) and a mountain of French fries (with which to soak up the extra sauce), the francesinha is perhaps best described. as comfort food. The remedy for a hangover, a broken heart and a bitter winter afternoon, the francesinha is, in my opinion, an embodiment of the Portuguese approach to most things in life: eating with unashamed pleasure, solving life’s problems with the food and, of course, Of course, to always add fries.

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