While Portugal is undoubtedly known for its amazing seafood, there’s another staple of Portuguese cuisine that appears on plates all over the country: sandwiches! Yes, that’s right. Portugal loves a good sandwich, and there are lots of them to try. You would be hard pressed to walk into any café and not find the big three — ham, cheese, or ham and cheese — on the menu. Considering how good the ham, cheese, and bread are, that’s really not a bad start. But that’s just the beginning of Portuguese sandwich options. If you’re looking to sink your teeth into something special, these are sure to pique your interest.
1. Sande De Leitão
Leitão is roasted suckling pig basted in herbs and spices as it cooks on a spit over a wood fire. The result is incredibly tender and moist meat with crispy skin, full of flavor. The town of Mealhada in the Bairrada region is bursting with leitão restaurants, though you can find this delicious meat all over the country. Sande de leitão is a simple sandwich made with chunks of the tender meat often served on Pão da Mealhada, a round-shaped roll with four points on the top. Since Barraida is known for its Portuguese wines, including sparkling espumantes, we can’t think of a more delicious pairing. There are many spots around Coimbra, and especially in Mealhada, to try a sande de leitão. Or go whole hog for a platter of leitão da Barraida at the famous Pedro dos Leitões, which began selling pork sandwiches to truck drivers in 1943.
This huge sandwich is one of the most famous in Portugal. It’s a creation from the imagination of Daniel da Silva, who encountered the croque-monsieur sandwich while living in France. The story goes that he returned to Portugal in the 1960s and decided to make his own version far more indulgent. This monster is made with large slices of plain bread loaded up with layers of meat — ham, beef steak, smoked sausage, and fresh sausage — and melted cheese. That’s just the foundation. The entire sandwich is then covered in melted cheese and doused with a tangy tomato, garlic, and beer sauce. You can get a Francesinha Especial by adding a fried egg. Because no Portuguese sandwich is complete without potatoes, even this so-called “heart attack on a plate” usually comes surrounded with French fries. The city of Porto lays claim to the Fracesinha, but you’ll find it all over the country. Everyone you ask will have their own favorite, but we think Lado B Café and Café Santiago in Porto would make a great start.
One of our favorite sandwiches is the bifana. It consists of thin slices of pork marinated in spices, garlic, and white wine and served on a simple papo secos roll. While some places up north serve it with a sauce, most places do not and you are encouraged to add a squeeze of plain yellow mustard on top. The bifana is often a snack favored by those looking for a bit of grease to sop up alcohol after too much partying. Otherwise, an ice cold Portuguese beer pairs perfectly with this humble but delicious sandwich. There are regional variations in the sauce, some using wine, others beer. Also, depending upon where you get it, you may find a bifana with strips, shreds, or cutlets of pork. The bifana could be considered Portuguese fast food, and it is so popular that even a Portuguese McDonald’s tried to make their own version — the McBifana. We can’t say what that would be like, but we know that, with a side of fries and an ice cold drink, this is a simple but satisfying sandwich. There are lots of places to try a bifana including Casa Das Bifanas in Cascais and Lisbon.
4. Prego No Pão
A close cousin to the bifana, the prego no pão is a sandwich made of marinated beef popular all over Portugal. Prego means “nail” in Portuguese, and some say the name comes from the garlic bits that are “nailed” into the meat when it’s being pounded. Others say it is the namesake of Manuel Dias Prego, a 19th century tavern owner in Sintra who sold wine and meat sandwiches. Like the bifana, the prego comes in many variations. We had a simple piece of steak inside a soft roll for “dessert” after a seafood meal and a dressed up version as our entire meal. Portuguese often enjoy the afternoon snack of a prego and beer. The marinade can vary in spices and liquids, but one thing you will always find included is garlic. We had an amazingly loaded prego in the café bar at the exquisite Forteleza do Guincho with a seaside view. The Forteleza also houses a Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurant for dinner.
5. Sande De Enchido / Presunto
As much as the Portuguese love seafood, they also consume a lot of meat. Some of the best sandwiches are as simple as it gets, meat and bread. Enchido (cured sausage) or presunto (dry-cured ham) of the finest quality on freshly baked bread or a Portuguese roll is hard to beat. You can also find a sande of presunto e queijo (with cheese) or a sande de presunto e ovo, adding a fried egg inside. These sandwiches can be found at snack stands everywhere and even at the prepared food counter of Pingo Doce grocery stores. They’re perfect to take with you as you see the sights wherever you roam.
[Photo #5 Tosta mista]
6. Tosta Mista
Another sandwich found all over Portugal is the simple but elegant tosta mista. A humble toasted ham and cheese sandwich, it’s a super tasty budget saver. Portuguese sometimes have a tosta mista for breakfast with a coffee. Sometimes it’s a lunch special served with potato chips or fries, soup, or salad. It often comes with a large pat of butter on top that melts and gives you deliciously greasy fingers. Tosta mista can be a pressed bread sandwich or served on a toasted roll. Upscale establishments may push the envelope using Black Forest or turkey ham. But the cheese will usually be perfectly melty Queijo Flamengo. Modeled after Dutch Edam, it’s Portugal’s answer to American cheese. We love having a killer tosta mista at local hangouts like Gingas near where we spent our first few months in Portugal, along with a small (imperial) glass of ice cold Portuguese beer.
7. Bolo Do Caco
There’s so much we love about Madeira and the food is no exception. Bolo do caco is one of the many unique pleasures coming from this gorgeous island. It’s a round-shaped loaf that resembles an oversized English muffin. It’s softer in texture, though, still with a nice chew. The best thing about it is its secret ingredient: mashed sweet potatoes. Bolo is the Portuguese word for cake, and the bread gets its name from its round cake-like shape. Traditionally baked on large basalt stone slabs, it’s often served warm with a garlic butter spread that melts when you slice open the bolo and smear it all over. After having fun on the island, a bolo do caco sandwich elevates even the most mundane ingredients. We’ve seen bolo do caco used as burger buns, filled with veggies, tuna salad, meats, cheeses, seafood, and many other creative ingredients. Try a fantastic bolo sandwich in Funchal on Madeira island at Casa Do Bolo Do Caco. On the mainland, you can enjoy fun sandwiches at many spots such as Caco, O Original.
8. Sande De Pernil
Sande de pernil is a roast pork sandwich. Rounding out the trifecta of pork sandwiches (along with leitão and bifana), this one could be thought of as Portugal’s answer to the pulled pork sandwich. Slowly roasted pork is then piled in shredded slices on a crispy bread roll. For extra indulgence, you can get it with some creamy Serra da Estrela cheese, but the juices from the pork are heavenly even without it. While sandes de pernil are available around Portugal, they are most highly prized in the north. We’ve eaten a lot of pork since moving to Portugal, but the universally-acclaimed grandaddy of pernil purveyors is Casa de Guedes in Porto, which has been serving happy customers for over 30 years.
9. Pão Com Chouriço
There’s nothing quite like getting a meat sandwich pulled right out of a fiery oven. If that’s something you want to try, you’ll want to get a pão com chouriço in Portugal. The chouriço is sausage made with lots of garlic, spices, and paprika and the pão is chewy bread dough similar in some ways to a calzone. The dough and sausage are cooked together with results that create a flavor parade in your mouth. Get chouriço com pão early in the morning fresh from the oven. Or, to taste the best chouriço com pão we’ve ever had, get it right from a fiery brick oven at the Adroana market, on the first and third Sundays of each month. Eat the incredible sandwich while wandering through rows of trinkets and treasures.
Portugal has so many amazing food experiences, and one of the best is its unique array of delicious sandwiches. Whether you’re looking for something hearty and huge like the Francesinha or a small tasty snack like the prego or bifana, you will easily discover many surprisingly delightful sandwiches you need to try in Portugal.