Bifana, that famous Portuguese pork sandwich

In Portugal, the bifana sandwich reigns as a beloved staple.

It features pork steak cooked from either the middle fillet or Shank end pig areas, served between bread. 

Bifana at Madeira
Bifana at Madeira

The focus here is on this sandwich that is a ubiquitous presence at fairs, markets, and food trucks.

Variations abound, with options to add internationally recognized sauces like mustard or ketchup.

Its origin

Notably, Vendas Novas, a village in Alentejo, lays claim to the finest bifanas.

While their exact origin remains elusive, numerous restaurants in the village craft these delicacies with unparalleled expertise.

What is in a bifana

The essence of a delectable bifana lies in the harmonious blend of premium meat quality, a well-guarded sauce recipe, and precise cooking techniques.

As you bite into the sandwich, you’re greeted with a symphony of flavors—a balance of seared tenderness and even cooking, accentuated by the rich essence of wine, paprika, and garlic in the sauce.

How to serve a bifana

While some eateries serve the meat in whole steaks, others opt for diced pieces. Personally, I favor the latter for its texture and flavor distribution.

Of course, the ultimate judgment of these sandwiches’ excellence can only be made through firsthand experience.

 If you can’t join me, fear not—I’ll gladly share the recipe for you to recreate this culinary delight in your own kitchen.

Bifana recipe

For four bifanas, gather these ingredients:

    • 4 pork steaks (bifanas);
    • 4 bread rolls;
    • 2 cloves of garlic;
    • 2 bay leaves;
    • 20g of margarine;
    • 20g of pork fat (lard);
    • 1 glass of white wine;
    • 1 tablespoon of vinegar;
    • Paprika or paprika paste;
    • Salt;
    • Piri piri (chili pepper);
    • Mustard.

The sandwich-making process comprises three stages:

    1. Marinade: Arrange the bifanas, salt, bay leaves, white wine, paprika/paprika paste, smashed garlic, and Piri-Piri on a platter. Let it sit for thirty minutes to an hour. Optionally, cut the meat into chunks now.
    2. Frying: Heat margarine and lard in a frying pan until melted. Add the garlic and bay leaves from the marinade, frying briefly. Drain the meat, reserving the sauce, and fry until lightly toasted.
    3. Cooking: Pour the marinade sauce into the pan, add vinegar, and cook for about ten minutes. Once done, turn off the heat, allowing flavors to meld and cool slightly. Serve on bread.

Note: Some often add mustard, while others prefer to savor the sauce alone. Bifana pairs excellently with beer. 

Join me for the Traditional food tour, to taste the best bifana in Lisbon.

David Monteiro