Many nations have their favourite version of meat on bread. The Americans have their hamburgers, of course. The Vietnamese banh mi (pork and crunchy vegetables on a baguette) is growing in global popularity. In Middle Eastern countries, the kebab reigns. Meanwhile, Macao has a near obsession with pork chop buns.
But there’s another sandwich you need to try – by way of Portugal. The prego is a Portuguese style steak sandwich. According to one story, it has its origins in the late 19th century, in Vila Praia das Maçãs beach at Sintra – part of the greater Lisbon area. There, the lifeguard, Manuel Dias Prego, decided as a side hustle to set up a stall offering fried veal on Portuguese papo-seco bread. After a road was built to provide easier access to the beach, business grew and so did the fame of his steak sandwiches, which eventually took his surname.
Another version holds that the prego got its name from lower-quality, affordable cuts of meat used in their preparation. The beef was pounded with a mallet to make it more tender, in the manner of a hammer striking a nail. Prego means “nail” in Portuguese.
Whichever story is true, all Portuguese can agree on the sandwich’s deliciousness and they have a special place in the Lusitanian heart. Pregos are served alongside a steaming bowl of caldo verde (cabbage soup) for supper on wedding parties. Watching a football match at the cafe down the corner calls for one of these juicy meat sandwiches coupled with a cold beer. On road trips, travellers will stop at roadside diners for the savoury pick-me-up.
If you’re in Macao and looking to try the steak sandwich they call prego, you’re in luck. Here are some eateries nailing their prego game.
Naturally, pregos have spawned several variations. In the archipelago of Madeira, a lush green tourism hotspot on the Atlantic ocean, the steak is sandwiched between slices of bolo do caco (a sweet potato-based flat bread cooked on a stovetop griddle or skillet). Garlic butter is also smeared onto the bread. The result is a finger-licking good sandwich.
Though not a Madeirense, Andaz Macau’s Executive Chef André Lai, lived on the island for a few years and wanted to bring its famous sandwich in Macao. As far as we know, Andaz Kitchen’s prego no bolo do caco is the only you’ll get to savour in the city. Priced at 188 patacas, it is served with a side of sweet potato chips.
Food Truck Company
Despite its name, the Food Truck Company is not a food truck but a brick-and-mortar diner nestled in the Rua dos Ervanários. It takes its inspiration from the fast food vans found in music festivals, outside clubs or just conveniently on the side of national primary roads in Portugal.
Its most sought-after specialty is the prego – often said to be the very best in the city – and comes at a pocket-friendly 70 patacas. The steak – cooked slightly on the rare side unless patrons request otherwise – is of premium quality and well seasoned. The juices soak into the bun, creating a texture that contrasts with the crisp outer layer of the bread. We usually order our prego with melted cheese – just because melted cheese makes everything better – and pair it with a cold Super Bock, the iconic beer of northern Portugal.
Address: Rua dos Ervanários 29, Macao
Pregos are not always featured on the menu in Portugal, despite being almost universally available. These sandwiches are so popular that eateries won’t specially mention the sandwich, as if to say “what kind of respectable place wouldn’t serve them?”
That’s the case at Mariazinha, an authentic Portuguese diner striving to cater authentic fare to the city’s Portuguese community. Mariazinha nails the prego with a perfectly cooked tenderloin steak, sliced ham and cheese, all tucked away in a white soft roll, accompanied by a side of fries. The steaks are cooked in an electric lava rock grill, giving them a pleasing smoky taste.
Mariazinha’s sandwich is priced at 165 patacas. For a traditional northern Portuguese – similar to what you might have in coastal towns around Porto – order a seafood cream as a starter.
Address: Rua do Monte 8, Macao
Café Ocean Corner
One of a few eateries at the Ocean Gardens estate, in Taipa, Café Ocean Corner – “COC” to its regulars – is always busy. Families living at the development like to gather over Portuguese mainstay dishes such as bacalhau (salted cod) and octopus in a relaxed ambience.
Their inexpensive prego (59 patacas) is served on lightly toasted bread smeared with butter, and packs a flavoursome punch as a result of the meat’s long marination in garlic, white wine, bay leaf, and other spices.
Once you’ve tried the cafe’s prego, give their pork version of the steak sandwich a go by ordering yourself a bifana. The bifana is also a traditional Portuguese sandwich that features thinly sliced pork marinated in a blend of white wine, paprika and plenty of garlic which is then pan-fried.