There are few things in life that cannot be improved by the addition of a big sandwich. Having a bad day? Eat a big sandwich. So drunk that you had a bit of a ‘disco nap’ on a big sofa in the pub while accidentally revealing your knickers to the world? (NOT THAT I HAVE EVER DONE THIS OF COURSE) Alleviate your crippling embarrassment by eating a big sandwich. So hungover that it feels as though a hungry hungry hippo is rampaging around your skull and you never want to see daylight again? Hell yeah, you need a big sandwich. So convinced am I by this theory I’ve decided that, if I ever write an autobiography, I’m going to name it: ‘And then I ate a big sandwich’. It just fits.
So, when Mr. McMc’s Portuguese colleague invited us out for a francesinha a few weeks ago, I responded to her email so quickly that I think I gave my wrist whiplash. For the uninitiated, a francesinha comprises two pieces of toasted sandwich bread filled with three different kinds of meat – ham, linguica (cured sausage seasoned with garlic and smoked paprika) and thinly cut steak. This is smothered in melted cheese and a tomato-beer sauce, served with fries and washed down with lots of Super Bock. (Apparently francesinha means ‘little Frenchy’ in Portuguese, as it is adapted from the French croque monsieur. This explains its etymology in a bit more detail.) It is immense, it is intense, and in Portugal it is the kind of meal you eat before you go out dancing all night. How could I say no?
I admit, before I tried one for myself, I was slightly worried it was going to be the kind of gut bomb that lies heavily on your stomach and sinks you into a state of epic lethargy. I spent my day prepping for the event in the way that a prize fighter trains for a bout – no carbs, lots of water, a gigantic salad for lunch and no snacks (if you don’t count the revolting strawberry fondant chocolate I misguidedly ate for elevenses). I even refused the offer of bread and olives when I arrived at the restaurant. This was a decidedly GO HARD OR GO HOME situation.
When my francesinha arrived, it didn’t look like much – just a cheese toastie swimming in sea of tomato sauce. Then I opened it for the money shot and saw the meat. SO MUCH MEAT. Put it this way – if one slice of bacon a day is enough to cause cancer, then eating this has probably shaved a good five years off my life. My favourite component was (perhaps unsurprisingly) the linguica sausage. Grilled to perfection, it snapped pleasingly to the bite, releasing huge bursts of smoky garlic flavour. I could happily have eaten a sandwich made with just that and nothing else. I wasn’t so keen on the steak – it was slightly overcooked (probably from being covered with the sauce) making it a bit tough for my liking. While this is a ‘sandwich’, it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can pick up with your hands. You end up sawing great hunks of the thing off with a knife and fork and eating them in delightfully messy, oozing bites – the rich fatty hit of the meat being offset by the sharpness of the tomato-beer sauce. And, in a fit of inspiration, I decided to be really dirty by sticking the accompanying fries in between the slices of bread for some full-on carb-on-meat-on-carb action.
Despite all my fears, once I’d eaten my francesinha, I immediately wanted another one. I also understood why Portuguese people delight in eating one before they go dancing – after one of these, it feels as though you could take on anything (and I imagine they work brilliantly as a booze sponge). As it was, I had to alleviate my cravings with lots of Super Bock, a few glugs of Portuguese dessert wine, and many, many pasteis de natas (small Portuguese custard tarts). But I’ll be back to take it on again at some point in the (near) future. After all, it’s a big sandwich. And life is always better when you know where the next big sandwich is coming from.
I ate my francesinha at Café Porto on Rodney Street, Liverpool. However, if you want one, you do need to call and request it in advance.