Discovering African flavours

May 11 2015

Consumers love bold flavours - and this is especially true of younger customers, who are especially drawn to ethnic foods and infusions on menus. 

Nando's, a fast-casual chicken chain, has recently been spreading across North America and its influence is having a knock-on effect on restaurants across Canada - especially in terms of flavours and dining style.

The rise of Nando's

The Nando's concept began in 1987 as a takeout restaurant in South Africa. The food has a Mozambican/Portuguese theme and the chain is particularly known for its peri-peri spices and flame-grilled flavour.

Nando's has been particularly popular in the UK, where there are now more than 350 restaurants. The chain set up shop in the US in 2008, opening restaurants in the Washington DC area. Although the chain has actually been around in Canada since 1994, it has recently picked up in popularity. There are now 29 restaurants in 3 provinces.

According to Technomic's latest Center of the Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report, the influence of Nando's is spreading and the food industry expert predicts that the ethnic flavours of Africa could be "the next big thing in Chicken".

What is peri peri?

Peri peri is a combination of herbs and spices, including bird's eye chili (called piri piri in South Africa), salt, paprika, onion, tomato powder, garlic, cumin, oregano, coriander and nutmeg.

Nando's incorporates the flavour - in various levels of spiciness - in almost every dish, from chicken burgers and wraps to wings, fries and even hummus.

These days, Nando's isn't the only eatery to be promoting peri-peri flavourings. While chicken with the spice mix is appearing on menus across North America, some restaurants are pairing the taste with other foods too. Peri peri seafood dishes like lobster and shrimp are popular choices and the spice also works well on vegetarian dishes like salad.

In fact, Nando's offers a range of salads, which can be enjoyed on their own or topped with their signature peri peri spiced chicken.

It's not just the spices

While the spices included in Nando's chicken are certainly part of what makes the company's food so popular, there are a number of other factors that contribute to the delicious African flavours - including the flame-grilled cooking method and fresh ingredients.

In addition, the food served at Nando's conforms to a number of current food trends - for example, chicken is a seen as a healthy protein source, ethnic flavours are on the rise and almost everything on the menu is gluten-free.

Other African flavour influences

Peri peri chicken might be one of the most well-known of African flavours at the moment, but the continent offers a huge range of other food options. For those looking to make the most of the popularity of African food, while also providing something unique, here are a few other menu items that you might want to consider:

  • Doro wat - This Ethiopian dish is a chicken stew with berbere sauce, which is a spicy mixture featuring chili peppers, garlic, ginger and basil. The stew is meant to be part of a larger meal, so serve it with braised cabbage, carrots, potatoes, red lentils, peppers and injera - a sourdough-risen flatbread with a spongy texture
  • Pap en vleis - The name of this South African dish translates to "maize porridge and meat". It is often a combination of barbecued meat and maize porridge, but also serves as an umbrella term that covers almost any combination of starch and braised or stewed meat. It's usually served with spicy gravy or a relish known as chakalaka
  • Muamba de Galinha - This Angolan chicken dish features a number of Portuguese flavours, reflecting the country's colonial past. It's a spicy, somewhat oily stew made with garlic, chilis and okra. Variations can be found across the Congo River region, where it is usually served with cassava leaves and white rice.
  • Irio - A popular comfort food in Kenya, irio is made from mashed-up potatoes, peas, beans, corn and onion. It is often served alongside spiced and roasted meat - the resulting combination is known as "nyama na irio".