Many like it hot

Josie Delap in More Intelligent Life:

PeriOn an ordinary Monday evening Nando’s in Whitechapel in east London is buzzing. Gaggles of girls in hijabs, groups of young men with bulging biceps, families with chubby babies, smartly dressed single women – everyone is there. They choose their chicken (boneless thighs, whole birds, spatchcocked, platters of wings, blander breasts), then its seasoning, lemon and herb, mango and lime, hot, extra hot, before anointing it with lashings of peri-peri sauce. It is a long way from Chickenland, the small café in a grotty mining suburb of Johannesburg where Nando’s began in 1987. It was there that Robbie Brozin, one of the company’s founders, says he discovered peri-peri chicken. Spicy, healthy, different, delicious; he loved it. So he and Fernando Duarte – after whom the restaurants are named – bought the diner and gave peri-peri chicken to the world. And the world has fallen in love with it too. Its appeal is democratic in the extreme. It cuts across boundaries of age, class, ethnicity and status. Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey and David Beckham can be counted among its devotees. Beyoncé once spent nearly £1,500 ($1,865) in a British branch. Prince Harry and David Cameron have been spotted getting their peri-peri fix. Before South Africa’s liberation, the African National Congress’s shadow cabinet used to eat at Nando’s. Nelson Mandela was a huge fan, says Brozin.

…At the heart of Nando’s success is peri-peri. In its original form the flavouring dates back to the 15th century when Portuguese colonisers in Mozambique added locally grown chillies to their lemon-grilled chicken. It spread throughout southern Africa, evolving as it went. In northern Mozambique, coconut plays a strong role. In the south, lemon and garlic are more dominant. Brozin says they tweaked Chickenland’s peri-peri sauce for a couple of years at the start, but since then it has been more or less the same the world over. Its base is the African bird’s-eye chilli. Such is Nando’s output that 1,400 farmers in southern Africa now grow a unique variety of the plant just for the chain. Chillies are like wine, explains Sam Hirst, who oversees the farms; terroir matters. The sun, the soil, the management of the plants all influence the flavour.

More here.