So, this is technically not a blog post about a restaurant in Lisbon, but rather it’s a delayed report of a weekend trip Nora and I made a couple of weeks ago to Porto. We had a great time, stayed in a house by the sea with some friends, had some good wines to taste, made beautiful walks through the old city center and, in a restaurant recommended by friends and locals, had a Francesinha. Say what?
Francesinha apparently dates back to the 1960s and was invented by a French guy who wanted to introduce the croque monsieur to the Portuguese public. We don’t know exactly how the monstrous, megalomanic invention itself came about, but let’s take a trip through the Portuguese culinary history and retrace Daniel da Silva’s crazy steps.
Imagine that one evening, dear reader, you are quite tipsy from Portuguese wine and are feeling very hungry. You start thinking to yourself, what could be better than a nice, juicy steak with some French fries? Okay, two steaks then. Or maybe two steaks with some sausage and cured ham. You decide to make it like a toast, squeezing the meat between two slices of bread. Can’t have a toast without cheese, so you put several slices of cheese on top of the toast which you then gratinate in the oven. Can’t have steak without an egg, so you fry an egg sunny side up to go on top.
You are nearing the end of your first bottle of wine and decide you want to have a sauce to go with that. You make a tomato sauce using whatever liquor you can find in the cupboard and in the process accidentally tip a bottle of beer over into the sauce. You pour the sauce over the toast. You add french fries because that was the original idea all along. You are happy with your dish and only when the digestion process comences, you realize that your invented name “Francesinha” (meaning “little French” in Portuguese) is actually only funny before you have eaten the whole shebang.
So much for a very speculative historical background of the dish. We went to a very famous place, Alfândega do Douro, along the river, a bit outside of the touristic centre where for more than 5 years now, they have been cooking Francesinha in a wood fired oven, selling about 150-200 francesinhas per day and almost double that in the weekends. Tables outside and inside, very local, they only serve some hamburgers, steaks, and the legendary Francesinha. Neither of us are serious meat lovers and we are not used to heavy food so we took a Francesinha to share, with all of the trimmings: fried egg and french fries. When you do something, better get it right.
So, okay, it wasn’t as bad as we thought. The wood fired oven did give the cheese a pleasant charcoaly kind of background flavor and the sauce definitely saved the dish. Yes it was rich but also very savoury and sweet, with a slight sour note and some spicyness in the background and it worked very well with the many, many layers of meat inside the Francesinha itself. But about the meat: who would put all of this together? And why? What existential, nihilist crisis preceded the invention of this dish? What madman conceived it? Not only were the steaks on the dry, overcooked end (of course since they are fried first and then gratinated) but all of the layers of meat together work together to taste of … well, better than processed meat, but not all that much better.
If you’re a serious meat lover and you don’t mind a bit of acid reflux after your meal, then this is seriously your dish. We heard that certain Portuguese people eat it about once a week. A Francesinha there will set you back about 10 euros and 5 years of your total life span. While we might try another Francesinha (preferably a vegetarian one, just out of curiosity) because we really liked the sauce, this is not the kind of dish we would develop any cravings towards. However, if you like living on the edge foodwise and you don’t have a liver transplant, then the Francesinha is your oyster. A big, fat, heavy oyster with French fries. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. (Nout Van Den Neste)
Opening hours: 9:00 until 23 pm, closed on Sundays
Address: Largo da Alfândega 20, 4050-430 Porto
Phone Number: 22 208 2552