The Secret Weapon of Portuguese Dining Restaurants: The Story of Peri-Peri

The Secret Weapon of Portuguese Dining Restaurants: The Story of Peri-Peri

With braai season well and truly upon us (and a sweltering Gauteng heat-wave to prove it), South Africans are heading outdoors in their numbers to enjoy the sunshine around the braai. In amongst all those endless coils of boerewors, lamb chops and braaibroodjies, there is one other thing you’ll find at practically every braai you go to: peri-peri.

Everybody in South Africa is familiar with peri-peri. You’ll find it at absolutely any of South Africa’s Portuguese dining restaurantswhether it’s one of Pigalle’s fine Portuguese cuisine restaurants in JHB and Cape Town, or your local grilled chicken takeaway.

Although peri-peri is most often associated with Portugal, it might surprise you to find out that this unique seasoning was created in Southern Africa. With the heavy cultural influences of the Portuguese in South Africa, Angola and Mozambique, as well as our love of all things flame-grilled, the popularity of peri-peri has been passed down for generations.

There is plenty of debate around how the African bird’s eye (or “pili-pili”) chilli came to our shores, but most food historians agree that it, like most other chillies, originated in the Americas and was brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus. It was then introduced to Africa by Portuguese traders on their spice routes, and given the Swahili name “pili-pili”, which translates to “pepper-pepper”.


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But the peri-peri we all know and love is much more than just chillies – that fiery, tangy and pungent seasoning traditionally contains a multitude of other ingredients common in the kitchens of Portuguese dining restaurants all around the world.

Cooking a full peri-peri chicken on the braai is a South African classic, and one of our favourite meals. There are hundreds of different ways to make this sauce, depending on whether your recipe comes from Portugal, Mozambique, Angola or South Africa. Of course you could buy a pre-made bottled sauce, but it’s so simple to make, we recommend trying your hand at home!

Portuguese-Style Peri-Peri Sauce

  • 5 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 5-10 small African Bird’s-eye chillies (depending on how hot you like it!)
  • 3 Large cloves of garlic
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Teaspoon oregano
  • Salt and ground black pepper


Simply combine all ingredients in a blender and whizz it up until smooth. Have your butcher butterfly a whole chicken (or do it yourself) and cut several slits into the flesh of the breast and thighs. Reserve a quarter of the sauce in a separate bowl, and rub of the marinade over the chicken and into the slits. Allow to marinade for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight.

Once it’s grilled to perfection on the braai, baste with the remaining sauce and serve.

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