For me, the sandwich is the pinnacle of the food pyramid. Sure I love fine dining, a good seafood feast, or a perfectly prepared piece of roasted meat; but in the end, I will always long for the great sandwich. When you have 2 slices of the perfect rustic bread holding together a selection of vegetables, meats and cheeses in the ideal balance of sweet and savory, crunchy and tender, you hold magic in your hand.
The art of the sandwich is the art of food pairing. The prior night’s roasted meat or fowl, sliced thin on a piece of lightly toasted bread with layers of vegetables, pickles and cheese, paired with a simple glass of wine or crisp hoppy beer, is the ideal balance of comfort. It’s pure decadence! (Pernil com Queijo photo by Casa Guedes)
This is one of the reasons I love Porto. A city that prides itself on its Bacalhau (salt cod) and polvo asado (grilled octopus), not to mention a rich tripe stew from which they inherited their nickname (O tripeiros), is still able to retain a rich sandwich culture at its core. This endless list includes southern Portugal’s Bifana and the ever-famous Francesinha, not to mention the Prego no Pão and the Sándwich de Pernil. And let’s not forget the bubbling pots at the legendary Tasca da Badalhoca whipping up mouthwatering Presunto, and what may not be considered a typical sandwich, but definitely exists in its wheelhouse, the Bola de Carne.
After 3 years of living here, I’ve concluded that if you really want to understand Porto, you must explore it from the view of the sandwich. Today, I want to share 4 sandwiches that are incredibly common on menus throughout Porto, and the places you SHOULD eat them. Sure you can order a Francesinha at Conga, but you’re missing the point, because you ONLY order the Bifana there! If you’re here for a limited time and want to taste the best, follow along below.
The king of all Porto sandwiches, this is the pinnacle of a meat lover’s food pyramid. Two slices of bread, untold layers of meat, melted cheese and a sometimes spicy beer infused sauce, there really isn’t anything better if you feel your cholesterol levels dropping. Which also means restricting yourself to one a week, or you might be making an early trip to the hospital with a deliciously clogged ticker! Although this sandwich is a bigger commitment than an 18 karat engagement right, don’t walk away until every last drop of sauce is soaked up with a pile of crispy fries. What’s inside you ask? If done right, the very best steak, ham, linguiça, hotdogs and more. There are two, maybe three, places to have one: A Cunha II in the Ramalde. If you can’t find it, give me a ring and I’ll be happy to show you. These guys rock because they rightfully know that this iconic sandwich begins with good meat. You simply can’t hide bad meat in the middle of this colossus. Next, Bufete Fase, known for their lack of seating and no BS waitstaff, they are spot on when it comes to spicy sauce. Just be sure to get there early, or quite late, as it’s always full. And finally, a new comer, A Casa do Evaristo. I never thought this place could top the rest, but they are near perfect in their execution of the Francesinha – smaller than most but neither lacking in layers nor flavor. Click here to read our full article on Francesinha. (Francesinha photo by Catavino)
Some say this is Lisbon’s sandwich. Great, go ahead say that, and then come here and have one. Pork shaved thin, boiled and stewed in a sauce that can range from fiery hot to subtlety zesty, this pork stacked sandwich is juicy and delicious. Lot’s of people are making them, but if you want the best, head to Conga in downtown Porto. Order the Bifana em Pão and a cerveja (beer). If you’re hungry, add cordoniz (fried quail). No frills…just a fried bird on a plate, legs in the air, with an intense suntan. The sandwich is wet and sloppy with a peppery sting that leaves you with bead of sweat across your brow. The beer is ICE cold and will warm as it approaches your lips in it’s vain effort to fight the tasty fire within. Sure there are a few good Bifana’s in town, but if you don’t have Conga’s, you won’t know the baseline that one should aspire to. Read more on Portuguese fried and fatty flavorful foods!
Cheese haters, please close the page. The sandwich called Pernil is a something that divides friends and families. Should it have cheese or just be meat? Well, I’ve decided, it needs cheese. Sure the meat is beautiful by itself, but we’re talking Serra da Estrela cheese here. This is the king of stinky, creamy, gooey cheeses! Do never say no! You never turn down this offer! NEVER! It would be an insult to the sheep that work so hard to bring it to you. When you have a crispy roll, with a slices of freshly roasted Pernil (Pork shoulder) and soft and gooey Serra cheese, you are dining on decadence. Where to get it? Casa Guedes. Just go there. You’ll wait in line, you’ll wonder why, you’ll eat and then grin stupidly as pork fat dribbles down your chin as you realize you have a small foodgasm in your seat.
Steak, crispy bread and an egg? Yes please, I’ll take two! The steak melts in your mouth, the egg is runny and finger-coating and the crisp bread delivers the texture you need to support the richness of the previous two. There is only one place in town that I know of to taste this bit of heaven and it’s called Lareira. If there ever should be a marriage of bovine and fowl between two slices of bread, this is it. The steak is medium-rare, and the egg plays the role of any condiment – filling the bread’s doughy crevices with a rich and flavorful yellowness. This is a sandwich I dream of. Ordering only one is a crime by most accounts, but sometimes you need to practice restraint and this sandwich will test you. Just go, order one, now and invite me along! I’m still researching adjectives to describe its flavor. And for all you out there saying that a Prego no Pão traditionally doesn’t have an egg in it, great. This is true, but once you taste one with the egg, you’ll realize someone finally got it right.
So there you have it. Though, I’m not going to share my various other fabulous sandwiches yet. There are some secrets a guy has to hold on to. If, however, you want to have a Porto Sandwich Tour that includes the full range of my favorite sandwiches, let me know. I can be bribed.
Oh and for all the Portuguese inevitably reading this post and shouting at their screens that this “American” doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Well bring it on! Educate me. What would you change? I’m happy to do the research. 😉
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