“you went to Nando’s, and she parred off the meal”
One of the things about listening to grime is you end up learning bits and pieces about life in London that you might not have known about. Slang (“IT’S A PAR!’), locations, clothes, and trends (watching the snapback craze make its way across the Atlantic has been interesting) are all mentioned in music that chronicles young adulthood in LDN. One thing I noticed that came up again and again was Nando’s. I can say without much reservation that Nando’s is probably the favorite restaurant of grime. You can see it mentioned in twitter posts, hear it in songs, and read about in profiles in the paper. Grime loves Nando’s.
Nando’s is a restaurant chain based in South Africa that has many locations in the UK. The restaurant was founded in 1987 by two men of Portuguese descent from Mozambique, living in South Africa. The simplest way to describe Nando’s is as a sort of African take on Portuguese grilled chicken. The piri piri chili, or African Bird’s Eye Pepper, is at the heart of Nando’s. However, it was not introduced to Portuguese food in 20th century Mozambique, but hundreds of years earlier.
All chili peppers, whether used in vindaloo in India, kimchi in Korea, or grilled chicken in Portugal, are descended from the Americas. The Spanish and Portuguese came across them from 1492 onwards and brought them all over the world wherever they colonized. Many cultures adopted them as their own.
“There’s a lot of debate about how the piri-piri pepper came to Portugal,” says Dave DeWitt, author of The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia. “The peppers were originally brought back on Columbus’s voyage to the Americas. Most people believe that the Portuguese took the chiles to their colonies of Mozambique and Angola, where they were christened a Swahili word that means ‘pepper-pepper,’(peri peri), and naturally cross-pollinated. Eventually, one of the varieties made its way to Portugal, where, for some reason, it retained its African name.”
So, due to soil conditions and cross-breeding in Mozambique, the African Bird’s Eye Pepper developed a unique flavor, and became very popular with the Portuguese. Mozambique was ruled by the Portuguese from 1505 until 1975. In all this time, there was certainly plenty of travel and culinary cross-pollination between the two cultures. Peri peri chicken has been popular in Portugal for quite some time. It is hard to say how much of the taste of Nando’s chicken is Portuguese, how much is Mozambican, and how much of that mixture was concocted in 1505, 1987, or some time in between.
After initial success in South Africa, Nando’s began opening restaurants in the UK in 1992. There are now 65 Nando’s in the greater London area alone.
In a piece in the Guardian, Skepta names Nando’s as his favorite restaurant, saying he “can’t get enough” of it. Dot Rotten (a/k/a Young Dot) apparently got attacked in a Nando’s by Blacks, a member of his former crew OG’z, saying about it on Twitter:
“Blacks an couple man actully tried to rush me in Nandos Greenwich… man were throwing plates peri peri bottles glasses everything trying to hurt little old me…”
Trim got interviewed in a Nando’s around the time of the release of his first Soul Food mix CD in 2007, and when asked if he ate there regularly, he replied, “Yeah man, love it.”
Trim at left, peri peri sauce in foreground
While it isn’t hard-hitting journalism, the piece does a good job of explaining Nando’s popularity with grime artists and the demographic they represent: young, urban, second or third generation immigrants from the Caribbean or Africa who want something nicer than the Halal fried chicken joint on the corner (many artists talk about Nando’s as a date spot, as in this interview with producer S-X) and don’t want bland British food. As Chipmunk says in the article, “It’s the closest thing you can get to jerk chicken, and if chicken isn’t Caribbean or Nando’s, I can’t mess with it.” And just like the Ground Round, Nando’s offers free soda refills.
Coincidentally, the only places that have Nando’s in North America both have fairly large Caribbean and African populations: Toronto and Washington DC. I was up in Toronto a few months ago and was going to try Nando’s there, but almost all the reviews online were terrible. Add that to the fact that the Nando’s locations there are in hard to reach suburbs and I decided to wait to try it in DC.
Last week I was in Washington DC and finally got to try Nando’s. I ate at the downtown location, near the Verizon Center on 7th St. I have to say, it was really good. You can select how hot you want your chicken flavored and I ordered mine spicy. I assume this is controlled by which sauce it was marinaded in. Mine tasted sort of like chicken tikka, or at least that is the closest thing I can compare it to, as it didn’t taste anything like the Portuguese grilled chicken I eat in Montreal. I also got peri peri fries with it, which is french fries with a chili powder on them.
Once you get your chicken, you can then add on sauces, which range from a fairly mellow Lemon and Herb to various superhot peri peri sauces. The Wild Herb one just tasted totally insane, way too zesty. The Extra Extra Hot (“X” bottle on the left) was very strange, as it was not something that tasted initially very hot, (like, say, the hot sauce at Mamoun’s does), but creeped up slow and heavy and stayed on your tongue for a long time. Between the spicy chicken, the spicy fries, and the spicy sauces, I was feeling a little light-headed by the time I finished my meal.
The free soda refills were coming in handy, for sure. All in all, I thought it was pretty good, a decent value for money, and nice quick meal to grab on the way to the National Portrait Gallery. I would definitely eat there often if there was one near me.
Apparently, Jay Z is a fan of Nando’s, asking for it in his backstage rider when he played at the Brit awards in 2010. I guess this makes sense, as Jay Z has made an effort for quite some time to keep on top of trends in the UK. Witness him spitting on top of the grime classic Forward Riddim in 2006.
If there is one person who could bring Nando’s to NYC, it’s Jay Z. So, come on Jay, can you open up a Nando’s in Barclays Center or what? Having some Nando’s, watching the Nets, and walking over to Junior’s for cheesecake sounds like a plan to me.