Portugal Part 3: The Little French Girl – World’s Best Sandwich (Mike)
Porto was the final city of our trip and ended up being the unanimous choice of best city in Portugal. The setting of this city is absurdly beautiful. Nestled on the Duoro river and bookended by sweeping bridges on either side, the city rises steeply out of the river and into the surrounding hills. The riverfront is lined with ancient walls and architecture that are now occupied by delicious seafood restaurants and port wineries. The site is so impressive that it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site this year and deservedly so.
In addition to its physical beauty, Porto is also home to literally the craziest and most delicious sandwich that I have ever encountered: the enigmatically named Little French Girl (Francisena). This sandwich is prepared as follows: A slice of white bread is covered with ham, cheese, then grilled steak, then more cheese, then a grilled hot dog, then more cheese, then a different type of ham, then another piece of bread, then what I describe as a “cheese-house” is build around sandwich and melted, then an egg is placed on top of that, then the whole, hot mess is doused in a hot, spicy tomato sauce and served with French fries. If this had been available as a late-night food in either Berkeley or Charlottesville, I can tell you that I would not be alive today to tell you about this sandwich. It is a hydrogen-class calorie bomb and it is dangerously delicious. If you ever visit Porto, and you should, make this a top priority.
Porto showcased my favorite feature of Portugal, that being its incredibly friendly people. All over the country, we were blown away by how nice everyone was across the board. This overall niceness was encapsulated on our second-to-last day when we met Joanna, the owner of a brand new coffee shop. I should preface the introduction to Joanna by explaining, in the gentlest possible terms, that Portuguese people are so great, but the women are just not attractive. Period. I asked some Spanish people about this when we returned and they told me the following: “We have an expression in our country for Portugese women. They are like shrimp. All parts of them are good, except the face.” Joanna was the glass-shattering exception to this truism. An absolute beauty, Joanna shared with us free glasses of wine, free banana bread, and advice about her favorite restaurants in the area. All three of us (this includes Laura as much as it does Nathan and me) stood in front of her captivated. When I told her that Porto was our favorite city (which happened to be true, but I would have told her anything at that point), she lit up like a Christmas Tree. “You don’t know how happy that makes me,” she said. “How happy that makes us Portuguese. We love sharing our city and hearing that you like it.” Laura told her that she would give her new coffee shop a good review on the internet. “I am happy today,” she said with the world’s most winning smile.
All three of us, love-struck, agreed to go back to her place on our last day before we had to catch our flight. We thought up incredibly creative conversation topics to keep us in the café as long as possible. I asked what the café was before she bought it and if the woodwork was original. Nathan boldly asked if he could see her back office. Laura asked her what she did before she opened the coffee shop. “Oh, I used to be a fashion designer.” “Oh, really, what did you design?” we asked as one. “Lingerie.” Of course you used to be a lingerie designer, Johanna, of course you did. Only after exhausting all possible conversational pathways did we, with great reluctance, tear ourselves away from this shining java goddess.
Like Joanna, Portugal is beautiful and friendly and deserves your attention. The beaches are beyond comparison, the people wildly friendly, and the food delicious. If you’re going to Europe in the future, seriously consider making this part of your visit. You won’t regret it.