Some like it hotter

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Some like it hotter

Portuguese food may not be rated as one of the world’s great cuisines (unfairly so, if you have ever enjoyed fresh fish on the Algarve) but chicken piri-piri is certainly up there with the great comfort foods, as fans of Nando’s will know. This spicy chicken is as more-ish as it comes. Nando’s started in Johannesburg, using a recipe from a restaurant started by a Mozambican exile and the spice is an African one, as is its name.

Many African languages repeat a word for emphasis. If you have any South African friends, you will have heard them use expressions in English such as ‘now now’–  meaning ‘urgent’– which borrow from Zulu grammar. So you can take it that piri piri is pretty hot. However, the word is actually a Brazilian one, as Portuguese traders introduced this pepper from their Latin American colonies.

The actual plant, in case you were wondering, is the African bird’s-eye chilli, a variety of the Capsicum frutescens.

Piri-piri chicken is so prevalent on the Algarve you might think it has been around for ever. Not so. The village of Guia, near Albufeira, claims to be the birthplace, with the Ramires restaurant staking a claim to be the home of the inventor. Mr Ramires says he came up with the secret recipe ‘that I invented myself’ in 1964, cooking it for friends and it became so popular that he had to start the restaurant. With people flocking to the village to taste it, several other competing places opened up and the village is now known as the ‘Piri-Piri Capital of the Algarve’.

Ramires never registered the trade mark, or tried to expand his business, preferring to keep it family affair. His loss, our gain, as he has never lost sight of his original vision of serving good food to a few friends. The restaurant is simple – even basic – and busy: you can order any size of chicken, from a quarter to the entire thing, and it comes with hand-made chips and a basic salad of lettuce and lovely local tomato. Oh, and the choice of wine is red or white, plus a few local beers. Well, if you are a fan of the dish, that’s all you need.

There are other options on the menu but no one was eating them. Desserts, of course, are another matter. Flan, of course, and an artery-clogging dessert called Dom Rodrigo, made with sugar, ground almonds and cinnamon.

Given my own experience of piri-piri (chicken and prawn), long ago in Mozambique during its civil war, I’m slightly sceptical of the claim by Mr Ramires. How did something he invent get back to Africa so quickly it became a staple there, especially since Mozambique was the home of the spice? Perhaps it’s a case of Dr Livingstone Syndrome: he ‘discovered’ Victoria Falls when all the natives hadn’t noticed the rather large waterfall in their neighbourhood.

Still, every good dish needs a good story so I’ll give Senhor Ramires the benefit of the doubt. He may well be right, as this sauce – like many good curry ones – is instantly addictive, as I found to my delight all those years ago. His recipe is certainly a good one and it’s well worth the drive out to Guia to try it. The Ramires restaurant is up a small side street and can seat 300 people. The Rei do Frango in the town centre can seat close to 800. That gives you an idea of the popularity of this dish with locals.

To cook it yourself, you need to grill – preferably over a barbeque, though you can do it in the oven – a whole chicken (the smaller the better) that has been rubbed with rock salt, then chop it into large chucks and brush it with a piri-piri sauce. Basting it with the sauce while it cooks is a good idea if you like it even hotter. What’s in the sauce? Well, that’s the secret. Oil, garlic, dried piri-piri chillis and a little something else that the chef will refuse to reveal. More research is called for, I feel.

For information on the latest travel packages to the Algarve

please visit  www.bookingalgarve.co.uk

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