Actually, I should probably explain what a bifana is, since even I hadn’t heard of them before I started preparing for this trip. It’s a Portuguese specialty; a sandwich made with thick slices of pork stewed in a sauce made from wine, garlic, and other spices, and served on a roll. Mustard and hot sauce are available on the side, but it’s an exceptionally simple sandwich: just tender, flavourful pork, and bread.
The first place I went to was a restaurant called Beira Gare. It’s super easy to order — you sidle up to the bar and ask for a bifana, and they immediately slice a roll in half, pull some of the sliced pork out from the bubbling juices, and before you know it the assembled sandwich is on a plate in front of you.
I devoured the first sandwich and almost immediately realized that I couldn’t just leave it at that. I had to try at least one more. You know, for the blog.
So I found myself at Casa das Bifanas, where the ordering process is identical — go to the bar, ask for a bifana, and consume said bifana. The whole thing — from ordering to consumption — takes about five minutes. It’s great.
By now I was actually getting pretty full, but I had a thought: at this point I was just a guy who ate a couple of sandwiches. If I ate one more, then I did something. So I ate one more.
My final bifana was procured at As Bifanas do Alfonso, which was the smallest restaurant by far — about the size of a large walk-in closet. But the ordering process was identical, and the sandwich was just as satisfying.
Because that’s the thing — all three sandwiches tasted pretty much the same. Which is to say that they were all similarly great: an addictive mingling of tender pork and soft, ever-so-slightly crusty bread that soaks up the juices. Even the sweet mustard seemed to be the same at all three places (it compliments the very salty sandwich quite well).
Still, if I had to choose, Beira Gare would be my favourite, if only because the pork there was slightly more tender (they were also more generous with the meat, but at €2.50, fifty cents more expensive than the other two contenders). Afonso would be a close second; that one had the most pronounced garlicky flavour. But they were all pretty damn great.