SA Portuguese restaurants

September 7, 2009
in Archive
with 1 Comment

The same but different

Is local “Portuguese” cuisine really Portuguese? Kim Maxwell in Cape Town, Andrea Burgener in Gauteng and Tracy Gielink in Durban investigate.

Many South Africans associate Portuguese food with prego rolls and searing piripiri marinades. The hotter the better, seems to be the motto. Yet traditional dishes from Portugal and Madeira incorporate wine, garlic and subtle spices. The predilection for chilli-derived heat is an African leaning from nearby Mozambique and Angola.

Portuguese-born cookbook author Mimi Jardim immigrated to South Africa in 1957. With a husband from Madeira, she comments with authority on both cuisines. She makes reference to a “chilli revolution” over time which saw piri-piri being used to heat up traditional dishes, as today many so-called “Portuguese” menu items would be unrecognisable in the mother country.

Traditional Portuguese dishes are flavoured with cinnamon, paprika, bay leaves and nutmeg, while Madeiran dishes favour cumin or cloves and occasional heat. Piripiri is from the bird’s eye chilli used in Mozambique and from the lesser-used gidungo chilli of Angola.

The Portuguese embassy in Pretoria doesn’t have official records, but estimates put first- and second-generation immigrants from Portugal and Madeira at 300 000 to 350 000 people. Fifteen years ago figures were higher. The independence of former Portuguese colonies Angola and Mozambique in the mid 1970s swelled Portuguese numbers in South Africa. With travel opening up between South Africa and Mozambique, and immigrants returning to Portugal, chilli heat has travelled too.

“Portuguese restaurants in South Africa used to offer food from ‘home’ for the Portuguese communities such as rabbit, tripe and trotters or codfish bacalhau. Madeiran dishes included goat stews or fried and roast pork,” continues Jardim. “But these communities aren’t great restaurant-goers so the restaurant owners changed the menus to include popular prawns and chicken piri-piri from Mozambique. Or beef espetada from Madeira. So-called Portuguese restaurants nowadays all have the same menus, running some of those dishes as specials.”

Anthropologist and chef Anna Trapido uses the term “Afro-Lusitanian” to describe this fusion of African, Asian and Portuguese food genres in Africa’s former Portuguese colonies. Many Gauteng restaurants run by people calling themselves Portuguese have these unique origins. “South Africans always say they love Portuguese food. But they are often referring to the spicier Afro-Lusitanian dishes from their childhood holidays in Loreno Marques [now Maputo],” Trapido points out. “Many local restaurants are run by people with origins in Angola and Mozambique.

A key indicator that you are in an Afro-Lusitanian rather than classic Portuguese restaurant would be seeing the term ‘frango a cafreal’ on the menu.’Cafreal’ is a pejorative term for black Africans, yet is used in an uninhibited manner. Perhaps not very PC, but it reflects an acknowledgement that mohlo de piri-piri (piri-piri sauce) is food created in Africa by Africans.”

“Frango a cafreal” refers to piri-piri chicken. Restaurateur Toni Silva left Mozambique and worked in Gauteng before setting up of Toni’s on Kloof in Cape Town. He says ‘cafreal’ translates as local, and that ex-Mozambicans in Johannesburg will relate to the term, but immigrants from Portugal won’t.

Successful Nando’s flame-grilled chicken with its faux-Portuguese branding has also fanned the debate as to what constitutes authentic Portuguese. Lovers of this “famous peri-peri chicken” [sic] at outlets in Australia and UK would be forgiven for thinking the flavours originated in Portugal. Yet South African Robbie Brozin and Portuguese Fernando Duarte created the chicken franchise in 1987 in South Africa. “When the Portuguese came into Africa, they used the local spices,” says Duarte of African piri-piri. “So Nando’s is very much a fusion of Portuguese flame-grilled chicken with local African spices. We say it’s Afro- Portuguese.” Chicken piri-piri is bona fide, but chicken trinchado was a Nando’s “innovation”. Duarte explains: “It might not exist in Portugal, but why can’t there be trinchado sauce with chicken? We’re a chicken restaurant.”

The larger the pockets of Portuguese immigrant communities, the greater the likelihood of authentic “specials” in restaurants. But times are changing. “Johannesburg offers more traditional recipes in the southern suburbs especially, although those restaurants are dying along the way. Sadly, some restaurants are going very commercial and becoming like pizza places,” commented one restaurateur.

So is it wrong to adapt local dishes if flavours are improved? Lydia Nobrega at Chapmans Peak Hotel in Cape Town is unapologetic that her Madeiran father’s trinchado deviates from traditional recipes – additional spicing enhances their sauce.

A Mozambiquean employee modified their piri-piri chicken and prawn recipes too. After 12 years, Adega do Monge in Johannesburg relies on non-Portuguese clientele for the bulk of business, yet old-style cooking keeps immigrant regulars returning too. Portuguese owner Jorge Cruz offers a traditional herby green sauce and embraces African piri-piri. So instead of suggesting African-Portuguese fusion isn’t authentic from a traditionalist’s perspective, perhaps it’s time that we recognise and embrace it as different.

Portuguese food authority Mimi Jardim says Portugal’s national dish of bacalhau is an acquired taste, made from salted codfish. Chicken livers or giblets could be fried with onion and spices. In South Africa, chilli is added. Caldo verde is a traditional thin kale (form of cabbage) and sausage soup. Espetada of beef cubes traditionally seasoned with salt and bay leaves, on a skewer with garlic butter, originated in Madeira. In Portuguese cookbooks trinchado sauce doesn’t exist but prego trinchado refers to prego (beef) sliced in cubes and fried in garlic, bay leaf, butter and wine. Local menus modify with piri-piri, tomato paste or Worcester sauce, and unconventionally replace beef trinchado with chicken.

In Portugual prego trinchado is served in a roll; bifana of pork in a roll can be ordered too. A saddled steak or steak on horseback in Portugal is any steak with a fried egg on top, locally called Portuguese steak. Goat, rabbit or pork stews and roasts are typical in Portugal and Madeira. A Portuguese favourite is feijoada, slow-cooked beans with pork trotters or belly, fatty meat and distinctively flavoured enchidos (sausages). Grilled piri-piri chicken is of Mozambiquean origin, as are prawns piri-piri.

Traditional Portuguese seafood wouldn’t include chilli. Desserts are typically rich and made with eggs. Crme caramel is similar to its authentic variation called pudim 365 (it’s a daily tradition) or pudim flan. Rice pudding or pastis de nata miniature custard tarts also feature.

Vinho Verde is a Portuguese wine from the Minho region in the far north of the country. The name literally means “green wine”, referring to its youthful freshness rather than its color. Light in alcohol, fresh thanks to high natural acidity and with a delicate pettilance, these wines are not overly complex and well suited to piri-piri flavoured dishes. Meanwhile South Africans have adopted the Catembes – widely sipped in Angola and Mozambique – which mixes inexpensive red wine with Coke.

32 Roberts Ave, Kensington, Jhb.
Tel 011 614 3041.

It’s probably the Joburg restaurant which most of the city’s Portuguese community will direct you to if asking to find food from their homeland. White-clothed tables fill a high-ceilinged old house, kitted out with blue-and-white wall tiles. The place is invariably full to bursting with a singularly merry crowd. Tye menu offers a range of African-Portuguese hybrid dishes, from Mozambican-style prawns to piri-piri chicken, plus a standout crab curry. Though these are popular, and well executed, regulars aim for those authentic Portuguese dishes that few other local eateries do. One of the best is cuttlefish, grilled and served with a green sauce – a delicious heap of finely chopped raw onion, flatleaf parsley, olive oil and vinegar.

And from the changing daily specials, oxtail with chickpeas, tripe with beans and kid stew are all brilliant and served in sumptuous portions. The only caveat: beware of offending hot-tempered manager Sam – a reviewing visit was met with angry claims of menu plagiarism when his eye lit on my note-book scribbles at the table, and then much fury that a review was in progress without his prior consent. All part of an authentic, tempestuous, quasi-Mediterranean experience, no doubt.

WINE: South African and Portuguese labels. Corkage R40. Two courses: R160. AB

Boulevard Centre, Jack Powell Road, Ballito.
Tel 032 946 0979.

Initiate your palate with complimentary warm roasted peanuts wrapped in a paper cone that is best washed down with a Laurentina beer, catembe (if you must) or cocktail. The best place for cocktail sipping is the upstairs open-sided bar however. Waiters are knowledgeable if a little sluggish but simplicity is key: tabletops are clad in brown paper and you’re warned that no finger bowls or wine pouring is provided. The intentionally rustic interior is inspired by a Mozambiquan “barraca” hut and the vibe is distinctly African.

When available, try the clams prepared in a coriander and white wine sauce, or snack on olives with macadamias or rissoles. Mozambique is represented by linefish in a coconut milk sauce and prawns cooked in beer. Portugal contributes the likes of trinchado and meltingly tender espetada. Piri-piri chicken comes with the quintessential char-grilled flavour and, if you don’t like to get up close and personal with your food, have it done in the “chicken-for-girls” style which is boneless and, naturally, served with salad. The piri-piri has a great depth of flavour and provides perfect lip-tingling satisfaction. A second restaurant has recently opened in Benoni.

WINE: Broad appeal with a larger than average Portuguese contingent. Corkage R30. Two courses: R120. TG

88 Kloof Street, Tamboerskloof, Cape Town.
Tel 021 423 7617.

Owner Toni Silva is from Mozambique and his menu reflects this Mozambican- Portuguese heritage. Our table of four kicked off with Laurentina beers and foodfriendly Gazela Vinho Verde. Bacalhau was available, but we shared prawn rissoles (regrettably tasting of cardboard), decent piri-piri chicken livers, and delicious caldo verde soup – thoughtfully brought in two bowls – with shredded kale accenting its meaty richness. Dim lighting disguised perfunctory decor including Portuguese red or green tablecloths, but not the rundown loos in this bright yellow house.

The feijoada deserves its claim as the house speciality: stewed pork cuts, beans, chicken and chourio in a spicy sauce, characteristic richness from the pungent “morcela” blood sausage addition. Sadly the recommended Mozambique curry prawn and chicken fillet special wasn’t impressive. Too mild, desiccated coconut sauce was a poor substitute for its fresh coconut counterpart likely served along the African coastline. Grilled chicken, while tasty, was not the “best piri-piri chicken in the Cape” as the menu stated. Extra sauce was plentiful though. We skipped desserts as nothing traditional was off ered. Nevertheless, excellent value at this scruffily dependable venue.

WINE: well-priced short list including Portuguese brands. Corkage R20. Two courses: R88. KM

15 CaledonStreet, Cape Town CBD.
Tel 021 465 7547.

Dated Maroon banquettes, eerily green tables and red plastic chairs under tacky booze flags characterise this popular eatery that has traded for 25 years. Three of us squeezed past the predominantly male clientele in search of bacalhau and espetada on a menu of grills with tomato bredie and eisbein specials. Not as shabby as I remembered, a wall painted with a Madeira map and traditional blue tiles below the bar counter reflected the owners’ heritage. Bacalhau required advance ordering, but fried squid tentacles and tasty chicken livers in a bowl of piri-piri sauce filled the holes. Portuguese Verdelho accompanied main courses. A prego roll of rump in wine and garlic was a little stringy; a grilled half chicken piri-piri better, yet lacking sufficient succulence. Chips were out of a bag. Fat beef fillet chunks in a bowl of excellent trinchado sauce were superb, with wine and garlic dominating subtle spices. Hidden amongst mousses and toffee puds was traditional crme caramel. Good coffees didn’t redeem the cheap ice-cream partnering this homemade, but overcooked custard. Still, no-nonsense food and service at great prices made this quirkily unglamorous venue endearing.

WINE: Unexciting, inexpensive local plus Portuguese brands. No BYO. Two courses: R90. KM

Summer Square, Sol Harris Crescent, Durban.
Tel 031 332 2299.

Tacked on to the end of an unassuming shopping centre, the raised voices of animated diners does more for atmosphere here than even the most carefully considered decor could. Owner Ricardo Flores-Coelho – who personally undertakes the cooking – is from Mozambique, and the cuisine is referred to as “colonial Portuguese” despite traditional dishes also featuring. Forsake flambed chourio for the version cooked with garlic, wine and piri-piri – it’s a large enough starter for two, especially once you’ve mopped up the delicious sauce with a roll.

Chicken and prawns piri-piri are deposited on surrounding tables at a furious pace and the calamari “lulas” tubes and whole baby squid are exemplary. An LM steak is topped with a slice of ham and fried egg and served in a traditional clay dish, while the feijoada (a stew of kidney beans, pork, beef, chicken and chourio) should appeal to any diner who appreciates rustic, flavourful fare. Service is casual but informed and although patience can be required at peak times, habitual long-lunchers are nonplussed. Reservations essential.

WINE: A small list of budget-friendly quaffers supplemented by four Portuguese wines. Corkage R15. Two courses: R100. TG

95 Jeppe Street, Sunnyside, Pretoria. Tel 012 341 3728.

This iconic Portuguese eatery is bang-slap on a busy main road, almost spilling into it, which gives it great city energy. It is, quite famously, peppered with all manner of colourful regulars (my children were delighted by a beaming octogenarian, who apparently often visits to dispense sweets and toys to any bebes present, rather than to sit and eat). The eclectic decor – Thabo and Nelson’s faces share wall space with Lisbon soccer-club scarves and such – echoes a menu of mainly Afro-Lusitanian fare.

Starters are great value, and little plates of bacalhau salad, trinchado and chorio, and gravied giblets, makes for a great introduction. Huge quantities of super-fresh rolls accompany all. The grilled sardines are a fine, upstanding main course, and the “frango a cafreal” one of the biggest drawcards. Regulars say the kitchen will organise off -the-menu dishes, such as Portuguese-style cod brandade, and other not-so mainstream delights, on request. The sweet pudim – wobbling atop a lovely mommystyle, cut-glass platter, balanced on cans in the drinks fridge – is a damn fine example of its kind.

WINE: the best bets are Portuguese (or go for Portuguese beers). No BYO. Two courses: R110. AB


IN GAUTENG: A Palhota, Troye street, Jhb. Tel 011 336 1156. One of the inner city’s longest-running eateries, with excellent Afro-Portuguese fare decades on. The Mozambican coconut fish curry (when available) should be your first choice. The restaurant is no dive, but the adjoining bar can get rough at night. The Flamingo at the Troyeville Hotel, Troyeville, Jhb. Tel 011 402 7709. The spot for Loureno- Marques Portuguese – heaps of clams, grilled calamari, piri-piri chicken – with a camp backdrop and groovy crowd. Great caldo verde too. Eaters also fill the adjacent bar, festooned with TVs. Parreirinha, La Rochelle, Jhb. Tel 011 435 3809. This 34-year-old eatery housed in a former prison has a cult status. Prawn platters, piri-piri chicken and trinchado keeps regulars ecstatic; catembes wash it all down. The decor is literally hundreds of ties left by revelling patrons that form a mad bunting on the rafters.

IN DURBS: Victoria Bar, Mahatma Ghandi Road, Durban. Tel 031 337 4645. This Durban institution has specialised for decades in piri-piri chicken with sufficient succulence and flavour from overnight marinating. Despite its former Point Road address, the interior is clean.

IN CT: Adega, Willowbridge Centre, Tygervalley. Tel 021 914 5091. A festive family restaurant albeit a commercial Mozambique-Portuguese eating experience. Part of Luis Ferreira’s franchise, menus are devised centrally. Onion-tossed chicken livers, nicely grilled LM chickens to codfish variations and tasty crme caramel. Chapmans Peak Hotel, Hout Bay. Tel 021 790 1036. This Madeiran immigrant family specialises in seafood, but other Portuguese-style dishes are worth a diversion. Delicious beef trinchado, succulently tangy piri-piri chicken, chicken livers and prawns, with chilli heat stepped up. Good wine list. Vasco da Gama Tavern, De Waterkant. Tel 021 425 2157. This bar a.k.a.the “Portuguese embassy” has attracted a largely male, proletarian lunchtime crowd for over 40 years. A few Portuguese wines with no-frills service – stick to beer if cork taint bothers you. Somewhat hit-and-miss food includes piri-piri chicken, prego rolls and espetada.


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One Comment

  1. gluhtzeeJune 9, 2010 at 12:00 amReply

    as a had been regular visitor to ElEm decades back, the meals at Pensao Polana and Costa de Sol were delicious reminder of Colonial Portuguese cuisine.
    An excellent comment on state of Portuguese diaspora foods in Sa

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Wine magazine was published from October 1993 until September 2011 and now lives on in digital form as We cover everything to do with South African wine.