The Francesinha sandwich is not for the faint of heart. Known locally as “the little Frenchie”, this hearty sandwich is anything but little. It’s a Porto institution, and something of a cross between a giant full breakfast and a toasted cheese sandwich.
In this article, we’re covering the origins of this iconic sammie, the best places to try one when you’re visiting Portugal, and how to make your own classic Francesinha sandwich at home.
What Is A Francesinha Sandwich?
This iconic sandwich originates from the region of Porto in Portugal. It’s essentially a huge layered feast of bread, pork, bacon, steak, and sausage—topped off with cheese and a fried egg. It’s served in a tomato beer sauce, usually with a side of french fries.
If you’re craving a Francesinha and you’re vegetarian or vegan, we’ve got you covered! You can find meat-free versions of this sandwich in Porto, and we’ll tell you where you can try them further down in this article.
Origins Of The Francesinha
Although its exact origins are unclear, this meaty carb-fest is thought to be a Portuguese interpretation of the croque-monsieur from France (hence the “little Frenchie” nickname).
During the Portuguese dictator António Salazar’s rule in the 60s, thousands of Portuguese fled to France. By 1970, there were around 700,000 Portuguese nationals living in France – making themselves at home with both the culture and the cuisine. And, at our best guess, very much enjoying their toasted sandwich culture—which they would eventually bring back home with them.
However, the elegant croque-monsieur would take on a fresh twist when it reached Porto, quadrupling in size and becoming a full-size meal instead of a dainty snack.
The chef credited for creating the Francesinha as we know it today is Daniel da Silva. He spent time in France in the 1950s and returned to work in Porto at the restaurant ‘A Regaleira’. It was here that he worked on creating his version of the French classic sandwich, which he served to eager locals. It was a smash hit, and a new traditional food was born.
Are All Francesinha Sandwiches the Same?
As with every famous food that a country lays claim to – there are many different variations by region and by restaurant. As Francesinha fever took hold, bars and cafes quickly got to work creating their own versions of the dish, and every place has their own “special” recipe.
You can find vegetarian versions now, ones with ham or roast pork, and ones with different types of cured and fresh sausages inside. There are even seafood versions hiding tuna and shrimp in their cheesy depths, if you’re brave enough to try them.
Traditional Portuguese Francesinha Sandwich Recipe
While we in Portugal, we cheekily asked a local if they would share their favorite Francesinha sandwich recipe so we could share it on this blog. If you can’t get to Portugal (or you’re craving the taste and want to make this at home) — this is a classic version. It’s easy to swap out the meats for other meats, but the beer is essential to flavor the sauce, so don’t skip it!
The ingredients below make one sandwich, so double or triple the ingredients if you’re cooking for 2 or 3 people.
What you’ll need for the sandwich:
- 2 slices of fresh, soft bread (we recommend thick, white slices to soak up the cheese and sauce!)
- 1 beef schnitzel or thin, tender beef steak
- 1 cured, spicy pork sausage
- 1 beef or pork sausage
- 2 slices of ham
- 4 slices of cheese
- 1 egg
What you’ll need for the sauce:
- 1 teaspoon of olive or canola oil
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 1 small onion, sliced thinly
- 2 cloves of diced garlic
- 1 can of plain, salt-free chopped tomatoes
- 400ml beef stock
- 500ml pale beer
- 1 small, finely chopped fresh chili
- 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire Sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 bay leaf
If you can’t find any of the above meat ingredients, you can easily substitute them with something else that’s close. The Francesinha is a very forgiving sandwich!
Making the sauce
- Heat a medium sized pan over a moderate heat. Once the pan is heated, drop in the garlic, oil, butter, and bay leaf. Let it sizzle for half a minute, then add the onion. Simmer these together gently until the onion is translucent (around 5 minutes).
- Add the stock and canned tomatoes to the pan, then bring it to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Tip in the rest of the sauce ingredients (except for the salt and pepper), and cook on medium heat for another 10 minutes.
- Take the pan off the heat, and with a stick mixer blend the sauce ingredients in the pan until you have a smooth sauce.
- If you don’t have a hand mixer, you can tip the sauce into a food processor or blender to achieve a smooth sauce instead. Then, tip the sauce back into the original pan for the next step
- Simmer the creamy sauce for 30 minutes to thicken it up. A traditional sauce should be about the thickness of a pourable gravy. If your sauce seems too watery, you can gradually add a small amount of cornstarch (mix it to a paste in water first) to help it thicken.
- Add salt and pepper to taste
- Set aside the sauce while you prepare the meat filling for your Francesinha
Preparing the fillings
- Heat a frypan on a high setting
- While your pan heats, chop your sausages. Cutting them lengthways and then halving them will make it easier to construct your sandwich.
- Fry the sausages until crispy and set aside
- Fry your steak in the fat from the sausages and set aside
- Fry the ham slices in the same pan
Putting it all together!
Now for the fun bit! This will be easier if you have cocktail sticks or wooden skewers to keep everything in a neat stack as you work.
Lightly toast your bread slices and lay the first slice on a clean plate or wide bowl. Next, layer on a slice of cheese, the fried ham, sausages, steak, another slice of cheese, and the remaining toasted bread slice.
Fry the egg gently and place it on top of your Francesinha, and cover it with the cheese slices on either side of the yolk. Leaving the yolk visible is a key part of constructing the perfect sandwich!
Now, bring your sauce back to the boil and spoon it over the top of your completed sandwich. The boiling sauce melts the cheese slices and gives your Francesinha the traditional glossy, saucy, melty finish.
Serve with a side of fries or wedges to dip in the sauce – if you think you’re still going to be hungry after the sandwich feast.
And there you have it! Your very own classic Francesinha sandwich – the taste of Portugal. While this can take a little time to prepare at home, it’s worth every second. Just be aware you might be needing a nap afterwards.
Where To Find The Best Francesinhas In Porto
As the cultural home of the Francesinha, most cafes, bars, and restaurants in Porto claim to have “the best” variation of this sandwich. You’ll see it advertised on most menus, but these are the top spots we recommend if you’re on the hunt for this queen of sandwiches
Francesinha O Afonso Restaurante
This is one of the most popular places in Porto to try one of these famous sandwiches. Avoid rush hour, as there can be a lengthy wait for a table.
It’s about 15 minutes walk from the center of Porto, but it’s a beautiful walk. Plus, you can walk off the sandwich on the way back!
You can order traditional and vegetarian Franceshinhas here, and the vege ones are delicious. Just be aware that the fries portions are huge, so you’ll probably only need to order one and share it between two people.
Aside from its amazing Francesinhas, this is also a great place for motorsport fans, as it has a corner dedicated to the legendary Ayrton Senna
Address: Rua da Torrinha 219, Porto, Portugal
Facebook: O Afonso
This place is also a highly popular stop for your fully loaded Francesinha. You’ll find the perfect, cheesy, saucy stack, with tender steak tucked inside.
It has constantly excellent reviews from both locals and tourists alike. We recommend you go early, as by around 8pm this place will be packed with locals enjoying these sandwiches for dinner.
Address: Rua da Alegria 946, Porto
Facebook: Francesinha Cafe
Francesinha Café Santiago F
Cafe Santiago F is another reknowned restaurant where you can find delicious francesinha sandwiches in Porto.
Don’t be surprised to find a queue outside. Don’t be surprised either if most of them are locals – this is always a good sign that you’re onto an authentic experience.
The highlight of these Francesinhas is the special house-made sauce.
Address: Rua de Passos Manuel 198, Porto
Website: Cafe Santiago
Francesinhas Da Baixa
If you ask a local where to go for a great Porto Francesinha, Da Baixa will typically be on their list.
It’s a cosy, clean, simple restaurant that dishes up consistently good food – and it sets the bar high for other Francesinhas in the area.
They also offer vegan and vegetarian versions with fillings such as tofu, seitan, and tempeh.
Address: Rua do Almada 160 Junto Ao Tunel de Ceuta, Porto
Facebook: Francesinhas alforno da baixa
Francesinha Restaurante O Golfinho
You’ll find this popular restaurant in downtown Porto. It’s simple and casual – and a great place to go if you want to try one of these sandwiches in surroundings that have a great local vibe.
Address: Rua Sa Noronha 137, Porto
Facebook: O Golfinho
Those are our top Porto francesinha sandwich recommendations. If you come across any other great sandwiches in your travels, we’d love to know about them!
Planning a trip to Portugal? Check out my travel and accommodation recommendations here
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