Tag Archives: Sandwiches

‘And then I ate a big sandwich’ – A date with a Francesinha

A Francesinha

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.

Open face Francesinha

The Francesinha money shot

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.

Lovely lovely Super Bock

A few tasty Super Bock’s to wash it all down with

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.

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Christina vs. Food: A few things I ate in Chicago

The Chicago Skyline

The Chicago Skyline

OK, so there’s not much that’s worse than when a blogger apologises for not having posted for a few weeks due to the constraints of their ‘busy rock-and-roll-life’ (after all, who isn’t ridiculously busy nowadays?) But, as you may have guessed from the radio silence around here recently, things have been…well…a little hectic. A week of ridiculous deadlines was swiftly followed by a business trip to the USA, which saw me travelling between Chicago, Las Vegas and L.A. in the space of eight days. All great fun if you enjoy surviving on a diet of adrenalin, caffeine and french fries, and you ignore the jet lag, sleep deprivation and the incident where I called my Mum from Las Vegas and cried “I’M IN A PYRAMID, I HAVEN’T SLEPT PROPERLY IN FIVE DAYS AND EVERYTHING IS GOING WRONG” down the phone.

Las Vegas wowed me by charging $52.00 for three drinks in the Hard Rock Hotel and L.A. saw me commandeering a taxi to take me to the nearest branch of In-n-Out burger. But it was Chicago that really won my heart. Everything about it transfixed me, from the elevated trains running above the streets, rattling over my head when I went out for breakfast each morning, to the gigantic skyscrapers that scrape the landscape and make you feel like you’re walking through the pages of a Marvel comic. While I didn’t get to experience the place fully during my four day stay there, I did manage to shove some excellent meals down my ever hungry maw. These mostly came in the form of sandwiches. For if there is one thing I learned about Chicago during my time there, it’s that it is land of the exemplary sandwich.

Italian Beef sandwich at Max's Chicago

Italian Beef sandwich at Max’s Chicago

A perfect example was this bad boy, an Italian Beef from the rather nondescript looking Max’s Chicago. While the decor left a bit to be desired, the food didn’t. A giant sub roll was stuffed full of thin, slightly fatty slices of beef, giardiniera – a mixture of pickled carrots, cauliflower and courgette and served ‘wet’, meaning that a thin beef gravy was spooned over the roll before it was served. All of those delicious meaty, briny  juices soaked into the sub roll, suffusing it with flavour as well as making it perilously difficult to eat in a ladylike manner. I have no idea if this is a particularly good example of the species; I just know that on a cold Sunday afternoon where I was tired, hungry and terrified of skidding on the huge piles of snow littering the pavements, it hit the spot.

Special mention should also go to Ada’s Famous Deli on Wabash, a small Jewish deli I frequently lunched at during my stay. Go for their giant Reuben sandwiches (a $12.00 lunchtime treat that could easily feed two people, but which I decided to eat by myself because I am a giant glutton) and stay for their amazing dill pickles, which are as thick as a baby’s arm. The limp beef rolls I buy from the sandwich shop next to my office will never look the same again.

Garrett's Chicago Mix popcorn

Garrett’s Chicago Mix popcorn

And then there were the snacks. Numerous people told me that I couldn’t visit Chicago without trying a bag of Garrett’s ‘Chicago Mix’ – a mixture of caramel and cheese flavoured popcorn that sounds utterly disgusting, but tastes amazing. Made fresh in front of you, it’s the perfect conglomeration of salt and sweet – crisp, tangy and oddly addictive. Its neon orange dust also stains everything it lands on, which, in my case, was hotel pillows and duvet covers. I found myself eating gigantic handfuls of the stuff at 5am on a Monday morning, plagued by jetlag, watching awful news reports on CBS (“Are council employees watching Hula-Hooping strippers on YOUR tax dollars?”) I’m not entirely sure that it’s the kind of serving suggestion that the makers would suggest themselves, but it certainly gave me comfort when I needed it.

The Scotch Egg at The Gage

The Scotch Egg at The Gage

Honorable mention should also go to The Gage, an ‘upmarket tavern’ I visited on my last night in the city. I ate their restaurant week menu and, while certain elements of it disappointed, (such as a soup which tasted like a cup-a-soup with an egg plunked in it) I was pleasantly surprised by their meaty, punchy – if slightly overcooked – Scotch Egg, adored their amazing bread and butter and was utterly wowed by a White Chocolate Sponge. I’m not a white chocolate fan, but this cake was infused with a warm, spicy cardamom syrup that will haunt my dreams.

Sadly, work constraints meant that I didn’t get to see as much of Chicago as I would have liked to. Oh, I had well laid out plans of where I’d go and what I’d see, but by the time I’d finished work each day, I had just enough energy to consume a few cocktails and an easily accessible meal before passing out in my hotel bed in front of the TV. As I have discovered, the problem with work trips is that you actually have to work. However, I’m already planning my next trip back so I can explore more of this amazing city. Oh yes, and get my hands on more of that popcorn.

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