Joe's Chicken Piri Piri Story

Joe's Chicken Piri Piri Story

While in the Algarve (Portugal) several years ago my guide, a rather tall and "stoutish" English girl called Claire, was asked to give me a rundown of the "must sees" of the region. In the midst of her recitation of the local attractions she paused and with a sort of a eureka expression on her face asked, "Do you like to eat?" I wondered momentarily if she might be blind. Hitherto, my corpulence had rendered that question, quite superfluous. Then I remembered that she had driven herself to our villa that day and was obviously blessed with sight.

After I recovered from her astonishing question, I said, "Of course." She then said that one of the culinary wonders of Portugal had originated in the sixteenth century only a few miles from where we were.

I was already hooked.

Claire (who could have substituted handily for either one of the "Two Fat Ladies") went on to explain that among the spices brought back from Africa by Vasco da Gama was a unique little chili called Piri Piri. It was the essential ingredient in the dish to which she alluded.

Almost every restaurant in the Algarve (Portugal) offers their own version of Frango Piri Piri. They all are inspired by (but fall short of) the original. The original is still available in a labyrinthine 800 seat eatery which was to be found only 10 minutes from where we stood, still going strong after 500 years!

I cut Claire short and motioned to the rest of my group to follow me as I rushed for the van. Why wait?

We drove 10 minutes - as promised, parked near the old Cathedral (remind me to tell you about how I got locked in the Chapel of the Skulls...) and walked down a series of streets too small for modern vehicles. There was no sign, no doorman, nothing to identify the entrance to our destination. Claire knew. She knew quite well the particular door we sought. Experience, you know.

We entered a smallish, low-ceilinged room which led to a series of larger rooms set-up with long tables and filled with people. Except for modern dress, it couldn't have felt much different if I had entered through a time machine into the same room three or four hundred years before.

We found a table and sat ourselves amongst a very nice group of Portuguese, all of whom were in various stages of the Frango Piri Piri experience. Everything is served in what we call family style.

I won't elaborate on the meal itself. Suffice it to say that we repeated the experience 11 times over the next 3 weeks and each time, I made my way to the kitchen to thank the cooks. Well, that's what they thought. Claire had told me that I would have better luck getting the recipe for Coca-Cola than learning the secrets of Frango Piri Piri -- or at least from that establishment -- the one everybody on the Algarve tries to imitate.

What I was really doing in the kitchen was trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on. I figured that if I could later put all my "glimpses" together, I might be able to make my own Piri Piri.

If you want to know whether my espionage was rewarded with success, come see us Saturday evening...

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