What is francesinha and what does it taste like?

If you've had the privilege of traveling to the northern Portuguese city of Porto, known for its prodigious port wine production, its grand bridges, and enchanting cobblestone streets (via International Traveller), you've likely heard of francesinha, and hopefully, you've tried this city's signature sandwich.

Almost every restaurant in Northern Portugal offers this sandwich. But calling francesinha a sandwich really doesn't do it justice. Is it even still a sandwich if, in addition to four or five different meats, it's covered with toasted cheese, gravy, and sometimes a perfectly oozing fried egg?

We'll get to all that deliciousness in a moment, but first an origin story. Translating to "little French" or "Frenchie," the sandwich dates back to a French-Belgian chef who relocated to Portugal in the 1960s. According to Portuguese Food, francesinha was invented in the Alentejo region of Portugal by chef Daniel da Silva. As the story goes, da Silva wanted to put a Portuguese spin on the classic French croque-monsieur sandwich, which is a grilled ham and gruyere concoction topped with a decadent bechamel sauce (via Bon Appetit). Da Silva reinvented it for his adopted home with Portuguese ingredients and flavor, but surprisingly, the dish wasn't well-received in Alentejo. However, when da Silva moved north to Porto, he introduced it again, but this time to great enthusiasm.

A sandwich that takes many forms

Restaurants in Porto tend to have their own versions of francesinha, each boasting its own secret to achieving high quality. There are probably so many variations on this spicy dish that identifying the "best" francesinha is entirely subjective.

Let's unpack the decadent francesinha. It starts with slices of bread, the thicker, the better, according to The Cookware Geek. While there are many variations on the sandwich, typically, it includes cured ham, linguiça (a type of Portuguese sausage), and steak, according to Atlas Obscura. The sandwich is oven-baked with optional cheese, such as edam, melted on top. Just before it is served, the entire thing is drenched in a hot pan sauce made of tomato paste or sauce, a meat stock, port wine, beer, onions, garlic, spices, and a hot sauce, such as piri-piri. French fries and beer are traditional accompaniments (via Good Food). 

Some individuals have offered their own adaptations based on available ingredients at the grocery store and home, such as this NYC-based Snapguide user who incorporated salami, chorizo, and even sliced hot dogs in their sandwich. So it has cross-continental appeal. Despite its diminutive name, the "little Frenchie" is a huge, indulgent, and flavorful sandwich and what Cookware Geek describes as "the ultimate Portuguese comfort food."