Bifana Is The Portuguese Sandwich That Meat Lovers Will Savor

Whether it's burgers in the U.S., doner kebabs in Turkey, tortas in Mexico, or banh mi in Vietnam, every culinary culture has a treasured sandwich. In Portugal, bifana is a popular sandwich to enjoy at home, in a restaurant, or on the streets. It's a simple two-ingredient sandwich consisting of marinated pork stuffed into a soft Portuguese bun. While meat and bread may sound like a boring sandwich, you'll be surprised at the burst of savory and aromatic flavors you'll get with every bite of bifana. The magic is in the flavorful and succulent pork loin infused with a tasty marinade of garlic, spices, and wine.

Every region has a specific method for cooking the meat, whether it's pan frying, grilling, or simmering. Bifana is perfect in its simplicity but amenable to any condiments or extra toppings you'd want to pair with it. If you're a meat or a sandwich lover, the bifana is worth a try. Even if you're not able to buy it off the street, you can easily make this delicious pork sandwich at home.

Cultural background and history of bifana

While there isn't clarity about the origins of bifana, a handful of restaurants in the south-central town of Vendas Novas claim to have invented them. Despite this, bifana is a ubiquitous sandwich sold at stands and restaurants, along with being a common household staple. It's a popular midnight snack sold on the streets outside of bars to refuel during and after a night out drinking. You can also order it at a pub to accompany a pint of Portuguese beer. It's so popular in the region that McDonald's offers a McBifana alongside Big Macs and Filet-O-Fish.

Portuguese families are known to prepare bifana at home for breakfast, lunch, or snacks, each with different recipes influenced by the regional traditions in which they live. In the south and central regions, Bifana recipes use a single pounded pork cutlet that's been marinated overnight, pan-frying it before placing it in a fluffy bread roll with caramelized onions and a slather of mustard. In the North, bifana is more of a cross between a French dip and pulled pork sandwich; the pork slowly simmers in marinated cooking liquid and is either sliced or shredded. Upon stuffing it in the sandwich, it's customary to drizzle the pork with its simmering liquid.

How it's made

While cooking methods differ, the general flavor of bifana remains the same. Pork is the star of this dish, and the garlicky, rich marinade is what makes this sandwich a beloved staple around Portugal. The marinade consists of a complex array of spices, sauces, and aromatics in a foundation of white wine. Bay leaves, paprika, garlic, black pepper, and piri piri sauce create a spicy, smokey, and savory flavor palate to pair with dry, slightly sweet white wine. White wine vinegar and lard round out the marinade with acidity and richness.

You can pound out the pork into thin cutlets before marinating it or leave them whole. These cutlets will marinade overnight, either in a bag or covered dish. You can pan-fry them with butter, olive oil, or a mixture of both. You can also use the marinade and broth to simmer the meat. If you pan-fried the meat, you can reserve the marinade to reduce in the same frying pan in which you cooked the meat for a rich, gravy-like condiment. If you simmer the pork, you can shred it or add various chunks to your sandwich with a few spoonfuls of cooking liquid. Yellow mustard and grilled onions are the standard garnishes, but a sharp white cheese, olives, pimentos, or pickles would also taste delicious. If you want to make a bit more of a meal out of bifana, you can serve it with a bowl of soup, a salad, or potato chips.