When my wife and I were seated at the long communal table at a sneak preview event at the new Nando’s location in Edmonton, we struck up a conversation with the couple next to us and found out that she is part-Portuguese and met her husband while living in Portugal. That’s when I knew we were in for something really special.
Though it started in South Africa and became a cheeky Internet sensation due to its popularity in Great Britain, Nando’s serves up Portuguese-style peri peri chicken and side dishes. So to go to Edmonton’s very first Nando’s and meet a couple of people who really know what they’re talking about when it comes to Portuguese food was a very encouraging sign.
This being a sneak preview event, the entire menu wasn’t on offer, but the food that did make its way around the lively, packed room was excellent. The garlic bread, hummus and roasted red pepper dip were very tasty, and the fries – sprinkled with seasoning salt and served with “peri-naise” – were straight-up addictive. But I was anxious to get to the star of the show: the peri peri chicken itself.
Slowly but surely, the chicken began to emerge from the kitchen. It’s marinated in Nando’s secret spicy, sweet sauce for 24 hours before being grilled over an open flame. First, white meat arrived on skewers; it was moist and juicy throughout, not dried out like grilled chicken can sometimes get. Then came sliders, with shredded chicken and chili jam on a mini Portuguese bun.
But those all paled in comparison when big pieces of world-famous flame-grilled chicken finally made their way to our table. I managed to grab a couple of thighs – already a favourite cut – as they went by, and the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and seasoned right down to the bone. I tried to maintain some civility by using a fork and knife, but eventually – and encouraged by our new Portuguese friends – I got in there with my hands. It was worth every last napkin.
The heat scale at Nando’s goes all the way from “plain” to “extra hot,” but all the chicken that we tried was grilled with their “medium” sauce. It was hot enough to make your tastebuds tingle, but the spice didn’t overpower the flavour of the sauce itself. Still, offerings from the bar and from the fancy Coca-Cola Freestyle machine – one of only a few such custom soft drink machines in the city – were very much appreciated to cool things off.
As good as the sauce on the chicken was, even better was the sauce on the side. Every table at Nando’s was equipped with extra sauce for dipping, and by far our favourite was the garlic variety. The heat is tamped down a bit to make way for a big hit of garlic flavour. As my wife said upon trying it: “I want to eat this every day for the rest of my life.”
As we ate, the Portuguese couple regaled us with tales of life on the Iberian peninsula, and told us how peri peri chicken like this is available on just about every street corner in Lisbon. Unfortunately, we’re not likely to visit there soon, but at least we’ll have a little taste of Portugal right here in Edmonton to tide us over.