Just a short walk from Porto’s City Hall, Conga has perfected the country’s national sandwich
If Portugal were to name a national sandwich, the bifana sandwich would have to be on the short list.
Available across every region and sold in every location, from food trucks, to shopping centre food courts, to tiny local hole-in-the-wall snack bars, the humble bifana is easy enough to find and looks easy to make.
But don’t be fooled by its simplicity, the basic description of “marinated pork slices in a bun” is deceiving.
The popularity of the bifana sandwich even prompted McDonald’s in Portugal to create a McBifana in 2013… but anyone will tell you it’s a weak imitation.
Bifanas are generally considered to be “fast food,” but in a Portuguese kitchen, the thinly-sliced pork is slow-cooked until tender, marinated in garlic, spices and, if you do it properly, white wine. This is wine country, after all.
Indeed, a well-made bifana sandwich will zap you with a lightning bolt of flavours, and McDonald’s McBifana simply doesn’t compare.
Conga: perfecting Portugal’s national sandwich
Not all bifanas can spark the sort of gastro-fervour usually reserved stateside for gourmet quick serve options like In-N-Out Burger.
But then many of those In-N-Out fans likely haven’t tried the bifanas from a restaurant called Conga in Porto, billed as the “Casa das Bifanas since 1976”. I’ve been a fan of the common-species bifana since I moved to Portugal, but I was only recently introduced to Conga’s spicier version that has the chops to keep me coming back for more.
Who knew that a €2 sandwich could generate such tastebud loyalty?
The truth is, the best eats of Portugal usually are not served up in chain restaurants, nor are they promoted through traditional ad media. Customers are won over one-by-one, through word-of-mouth and experience.
When I first went to Conga, located near Porto City Hall, I nearly passed the front door because the frontage is so low-key. Blink and you will miss it!
But once inside, you’ll notice the restaurant extends to three floors including a lateral expansion on the ground floor to meet increased demand. Make no mistake, this place gets busy, and despite a large menu and a seating capacity to match, the bifana sandwiches are always served up quickly. Conga has clearly built up its reputation amongst the locals, and whenever I’ve been there, it’s absolutely buzzing with bifanas exiting the kitchen at a pace that puts most fast food outlets to shame.
A bifana sandwich recipe that will keep you coming back for more
Just like the expression, the secret is in the sauce, and whatever is in Conga’s recipe, it’s an addictive combination. The pork emerges from the kitchen piping hot and after just one bite into the bifana, the piri-piri bites you back!
The bread, a soft bun with a delicate crust, compliments the fillings perfectly, although just barely holding it all in. But there’s no point in using a bigger bun since bifanas are usually not a sit-down meal, anyway. They’re meant to be eaten standing up, stuffing one’s face with one hand covered in bifana drippings and the other holding a cerveja.
Paired with a cold, refreshing beer, these bifanas will send you on your way around Porto with a kick in your step and a zest for the rest of the day.
Conga-Casa das Bifanas
Rua do Bomjardim nº 314-318
Tel: +351 969 637 441 / +351 22 200 0113
To bite in your own Conga bifana sandwich, book your Air Transat flight to Porto.