Sometimes you can detect food trends by keeping your ear to the ground and picking up on tremors in disparate spots, sussing out patterns from the vibrations. Other times, it’s an earthquake.
In the case of peri-peri chicken, the foreshocks came from the summer opening of Fogo’s Peri Peri in Skokie and Fat Rice’s recent revelation to the Chicago Reader that they would begin offering the dish (which they spell piri piri) to go. But really moving the seismometers, the worldwide chain Nando’s Peri-Peri announced it would make Chicago its second U.S. hub, after Washington, D.C.
Nando’s Peri-Peri began in 1987 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Now based in the United Kingdom, which has hundreds of branches, the chain boasts about 1,200 stores in 23 countries. Marinated with the peri-peri, a pepper also called the African bird’s-eye chile, Nando’s eponymous dish is much more familiar in Africa than here. “Mozambique was settled by Portuguese during the Age of Exploration,” says Burton Heiss, the CEO of Nando’s USA. “Chicken and chips is what burgers and fries is to us in Mozambique and South Africa.”
At Nando’s, customers choose spice level as well as which sauce to be basted on the chicken, from options such as mango-lime and lemon-herb. The chicken can come in sandwiches, salads, wraps, and other items. Sides include Portuguese rice, garlic mashed potatoes, and something called mushed peas. “You have to try them,” Heiss says.
Nando’s plans its first three Chicago locations for 953 West Randolph Street, 670 West Diversey Parkway, and 1500 North Clybourn Avenue. They hope for the Randolph Street location to open in the spring, and the other two in summer and late summer.