Once upon a time, there was a sandwich. It contained ham, linguica, sausage, sliced beef, cheese, and tomato.
This little sandwich decided it was not flavorful enough. It asked to be covered in melted cheese.
Still, the little sandwich was not happy. It had meat, cheese, and bread . . . but it lacked something. The sandwich thought, "Maybe if I slather myself in a spicy tomato and beer sauce, I'd be complete." So it did. And it was.
And that is how the Portuguese Francesinha sandwich was born. (Or something along those lines.)
I suppose it is a bit difficult to describe the "hot mess" that is the Francesinha. Obviously an impressive concoction of just about every meat Portugal makes, the dish is heavy, to say the least. Before visiting Portugal, I found myself seriously questioning the sandwich, despite it being on nearly every "must-eat" list I read for those traveling to Porto. Once in the town, however, local after local insisted I must try it. Said to have been invented by an immigrant trying to create a Portuguese version of the French croque-monsieur, the sandwich--along with the local tripe dish--is a source of pride for the Oporto locals. (Although tripe certainly wins the "local dish" contest: locals are even called tripeiros--"tripe people"--to commemorate their donations of all meat products except the innards, like tripe, during the Portuguese Age of Discovery in the 1400s.)
Is it worth a try? Absolutely. Along with a cold beer, the Francesinha (and the fries served along with it) hits all the taste buds: spicy, salty, cheesy, meaty, bready (not a word, I know) . . . it reminds me of this mom-and-pop diner in my hometown in Northern California which served a breakfast concoction called the "mess": hash browns topped with scrambled eggs and covered with a sausage gravy. "Comfort foods" will always have a place in local cuisine (and in my heart . . . and stomach), and the Francesinha is certainly high on the list of comfort foods to try while traveling. Just make sure to come hungry.