Bifana. Remember the word. If you enjoy eating like a local when you travel, you’ll want to eat a bifana in Lisbon. If you’re vegetarian, maybe not… but meat eaters, please read on!
Portuguese food is a flavourful collection of meat and fish dishes designed to fill you up and satisfy your taste buds. A bifana is a typical Portuguese sandwich that doesn’t mess around: meat + sauce + bread. Done. No need to be extravagant. A standard bifana consists of thin pork slices slowly cooked in white wine, fat (or lard), garlic, and paprika. Each place might have its own variations, but you get the idea. The meat and sauce are spread on a fresh bun and served. Simple, but tasty.
Many local eateries serve bifanas. However, I decided to go to As Bifanas do Afonso after hearing that theirs is highly rated as one of the best in Lisbon. After going up the Arco da Rua Augusta to take in the views (I highly recommend this by the way), I needed to grab a quick bite to eat before heading to a pastel de nata cooking class (more on that to come). I decided to pop in to As Bifanas do Afonso for a sandwich. When I arrived (during lunch hour), the place was buzzing with many local patrons. The shop is very small, with enough standing space for about 6 people. Most people were standing and enjoying their bifanas with a beer, while the woman ahead of me ordered about 6 to take away!
In a feeble attempt to use my Spanish to place my order, I asked for “una bifana” and I paid up €2.20. But don’t worry, simply saying “bifana” is enough to be understood. At the front entrance of the small shop, you can see the pork stewing in a large pan and it is here that the sandwich maker assembles the bifanas. The woman who ordered 6 bifanas had used up a considerable portion of the meat, but the staff were completely unphased. They know how to deal with the high demand of their product. The man added a new portion of cooked pork slices to the pan, gave it a stir, and let it simmer.
Although I didn’t have time to try other bifanas in Lisbon for the sake of comparison, I can say that the sandwich at As Bifanas do Afonso was indeed delicious. Looking online, it seems to have a sturdy reputation among locals and I fully understand why. The bread was fresh, with a crunchy exterior and a soft interior which did a good job of soaking up the bifana sauce. Also, the bread was moderately thick which meant that it didn’t out-portion the meat or its flavour. Ratio is key. As for the pork, it was juicy, tender, and not too fatty. The meat was easy to chew, but so very flavourful because of the sauce. Also for €2.20, this sandwich is massively worth it. Such a small price for such a delicious sandwich!
You can add mustard or chili oil to the sandwich, but that’s totally optional. The bifana tastes great without any additions! It may not be the most photogenic of meals, but the taste more than makes up for the lack of aesthetic. I’ve written about a few memorable sandwiches around Europe – like these ones in Split and Krakow – and I’m happy to add As Bifanas do Afonso to the list. Enjoy this local bite, fellow foodies!
- Address: Rua da Madalena 146
- Opening hours: Monday to Friday roughly from 8am to 8pm and Saturdays from 8am to 1:30pm. Closed on Sundays.
- Cash only.
- Standing space only or take away.
- If you have a big appetite, get two bifanas.