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Our first bite out of Porto is all about its most famous food item. To call a Francesinha a sandwich is underestimating it entirely. It is an entire meal in itself and for some, an entire day's calorific takings. It is a layered sandwich made of thick cut white bread layered with steak, wet cured ham, Linguiça sausage and other cured meats that it is then smothered with cheese and sits in a bath of spicy beer and tomato sauce gravy with a sunny side egg on top and fries on the side with beer. And yes it is not for the faint hearted.
The Franceshina sandwich means Little French Girl and the story goes that it was an invention of Daniel da Silva who lived in France and tried to introduce a version of the croque monsieur to Portugal. It can be found all over Porto, each version differing slightly, mostly with a little bit of flair by each maker. Some Franceshina sauces are spicier other thinner or thicker than others.
At Lado B. cafe on R. de Passos Manuel they do a fantastic version of the Franceshina. Lado B means B side and the owner works in the music industry hence the names of bands on the walls.
We order a Franceshina with our lovely waitress and it comes out in a pool of gravy. It is undoubtedly rich and quite intense but also rather delicious too. The best part is when you get a bit of all of the fillings along with the cheesy gravy bread. And yes you can get an extra boat of gravy too which most people seem to take them up on.
This isn't just a sandwich for tourists. In fact at lunchtime Lado B. is full of mostly local workers having lunch and most of them seem to order the Franceschina. Service is very friendly here and our waitress is a darling. So much so that she chats to us about it and then recommends a place back in Gaia near where she lives where they do a special version of it baked in the wood oven so that the cheese and gravy caramelises, pretty much like the original croque monsieur. I ask her if there are ever tourists at this Gaia restaurant and she shakes her head and says no. I look at Mr NQN with that look in my eyes. The one that says, "We've got to go!".
So a couple of hours later, once I've done some work, we take the drive over to Gaia. "Do you think that they can tell we're tourists from the way that I'm driving?" asks Mr NQN. Admittedly everyone looks upon us with curiosity.
We reach Manjar Restaurant Quinta da Pena which is a large restaurant with a white gated area outside. They open at 6:30pm and we are the first guests to arrive. Our waiter is holding menus but asks, "Francescinha?" and we nod yes. We hold off on the fries because well, it's probably a life saving measure and we also have dinner in a couple of hours. We have a glass of Douro Valley red wine to go with it too.
At Manjar Restaurant Quinta da Pena the feature here is the wood fired oven. The rest of the menu is about pizza and other wood fired goodies. They bring out our Francescinha and it looks quite different. With a burnished cheese top, fried egg and olive the gravy is noticeably thinner and it is served on a terracotta plate.
I love the caramelised cheese on this one although I'm more of a fan of the steak in the Lado B one. I do like the linguica sausage in this more but I prefer Lado B's ham.
As for the slightly more liquid gravy, I adore this because it is more peppery and spicy. But Mr NQN prefers the Lado B Franchesinha. So it may be true, there is a Franceschina for everyone out there, you just have to try them all...
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever tried a Francesinha? Do you think you'd prefer the toasted one or the regular one?
These meals and travel were independently paid for.
R. de Passos Manuel 190, 4000-382 Porto, Portugal
Monday to Thursday 11am–11:30pm
Friday 12–1:30am, 11am–1:30am
Phone: +351 22 201 4269
Manjar Restaurant Quinta da Pena
R. Estádio da Pena 161, 4415-033 Perosinho, Portugal
Wednesday to Monday 12–3pm, 6:30–10:30pm
Phone: +351 22 786 0890