This year, my family is out to “eat the world” by enjoying 52 different ethnic cuisines within 52 weeks. We were glad to start this mission with visits to Lisbon and Porto in Portugal – and the chance to try many new Portuguese foods. So, we were delighted when our AirBNB host in Porto listed eating a Francesinha at Brasão Cervejaria as a “do not miss” experience. And, she quickly followed up with a warning to only do so if we “really like” meat.
For us, it sounded like the ultimate recommendation and challenge – especially for my sons who never say no to a quest or meat for that matter!
With only a short time in the city, we planned our first full-day in Porto around a lunchtime visit to Brasão Cervejaria (and an afternoon visit to the Port houses!). As we neared the restaurant, we quickly spotted lines of people queuing outside of cafes boasting the availability of the famous Francesinha. With each one we passed, our anticipation – and hunger – grew. So, it was with much relief that we happened upon our destination – and learned it was just a few minutes wait for a table.
Ordering was simple. We all chose the Francesinha – but a half-portion each. And, that was plenty!
Not too long after, the waiter served us our – huge – half-portions of Francesinha, a sandwich usually made with ham, roast meat (like steak), sausage and cheese (inside and smothered on top), topped with a sunny-side up egg, and covered in a rich beer and tomato sauce. As one does in Porto, we requested a side of French fries – and we were happy as can be.
Of course, we couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the Portuguese Francesinha in front of us and the French Croque-Monsieur we’d enjoyed so many times – at home in Chicago and in Paris.
The origin of the Francesinha - and its tie to the French Croque Monsieur
As our waiter cleared our dishes, he shared a bit of the tale of the origins of the Francesinha – which does in fact have a close tie to France and the better known Croque Monsieur. But, we had to find out more.
As shared by Tia Maria in her blog, Portuguese Diner, the Francesinha was created by Daniel da Silva in Porto in the 1960s. Da Silva, a recent emigrant from France, sought to adapt the French Croque Monsieur to Portuguese tastes.
A CBSChicago story on the 28 best sandwiches around the world notes that da Silva was in trying to invent a Portuguese Croque Monsieur when he created the Francesinha - which is also known as “Little Frenchie.”
Both sources note that the recipe for the sauce that sets the Francesinha apart from the Croque Monsieur is almost always a secret. But, as noted by CBS Chicago, beer remains the one constant ingredient in all recipes.
In comparison, a Croque Monsieur typically includes ham and Emmental or Gruyer cheese grilled between two slices of bread and topped with a bechamel sauce. On café menus, you often can find the “female” version, a Croque Madame, which includes a fried egg on top – like the Francesinha.
For those interested, the French sandwich is said to have been created as a French snack served at cafes and bars around 1910 – roughly 50 years before the Portuguese Francesinha.
Savoring a chance to try the Francesinha again
For our family, the Croque Monsieur (or Croque Madame for that matter) is a great lunchtime sandwich. But, the Francesinha is more of a meal – and something that would keep us happily satisfied for the rest of the day!
The only downside of thoroughly enjoying a Francesinha is that it’s been challenging to find a restaurant cooking up any in Chicago! So, I guess we’ll continue to dream of a return to Porto in the near future!
Join us as we #eattheworldin2018 by following @wrld_citizens on Instagram. And, be sure to share your own tips and tales with me, too!