I hold as a universal truth in my heart that almost everything is improved by being topped with a fried egg. (Maybe not desserts, but you know what, if someone were up to the challenge of making one work, I’d be happy to try it.)
It was in the picturesque little town of Sintra, just outside of Lisbon, that for the umpteenth time, this proved to the be the case. A friend and I were a perusing the menu at Estrada Velha, a small bar along the main tourist-packed road, wondering if the shop owner who’d given us the recommendation had steered us wrong, when amidst the sandwiches and salads, I saw something that caught my eye: a francesinha.
A sandwich originally from Porto, on Portugal’s northern coast, a francesinha is basically a Portuguese spin on a croque madame or croque monsieur (madame being with a fried egg, monsieur without, though the francesinha doesn’t have different names for this.) Instead of ham and béchamel sauce, the francesinha, has different kinds of meat inside. The one I had in Sintra had thin slices of salami, roast pork and ham, and instead of béchamel, there was a layer of gooey melted cheese. Plopped right on top? My favorite and yours (or possibly just mine), a fried egg. Finally, taking one step farther away from the croque madame/monsieur, the francesinha came in a shallow pool of a slightly spicy, sauce, almost like a tomato soup.
The whole thing was a saucy, sloppy, wet, delicious mess best attacked with a fork and knife. The sauce, really more of a tomato and beer broth, was perfect for soaking the bread in, softening everything and blending the flavors.
I’ve always loved a good croque madame but I think I just might like this Portuguese francesinha a bit more. Maybe my universal truth about fried eggs needs to also include a good sauce.