Mailing spices reminds me of
sharing songs with a friend; I think about their individual proclivities, but
also that which they might have never encountered. As I’ve been discovering an
array of new spices via the aisles of our store, I’ve sought to share them with
friends and family, many of whom live on the other side of the country; I
started curating spice-care packages, with the hope that the people opening
them may be encountering the spices for the first time.
As I continue to write these entries, I’d like to think of them as spice-care packages, with the hope that each entry can feel like opening an unknown. I want to begin with spices, which may be seemingly new to many Americans, yet are staples or essentials in households of other countries and cultures; I am fascinated by how spices are not only intrinsic to their respective cuisines but can offer a portal into the complex history of cultures.
The other afternoon, while on the phone with a friend back east, she told me that she was thrilled to try the Portuguese Piri Piri (or peri peri), which had arrived to her a few days ago. You can find it from our shop here: https://www.salty-savory-sweet.com/portuguese-piri-piri/. She hadn’t tasted this seasoning since she lived in England quite a few years ago, and frequented a Portuguese restaurant while in graduate school. I loved hearing that this seasoning had triggered her memory, and found myself inspired to delve a little deeper into the history of piri piri.
Since the origin of this sauce is not singular, let’s begin in translation. In the Swahili language, piri piri simply means pepper pepper. Piri piri is used to refer to both the pepper, and the sauce made from the pepper. In Zeb Larson’s article “The Tumultuous, World-Traveling Origins of Piri Piri Sauce,” he illuminates how this pepper began in an intricate web of colonialism and imperialism. When the Spanish and Portuguese first traveled to South America, they appropriated the native chilies, one of which was the Birdseye chili pepper, piri piri; the Portuguese initially weren’t enamored by the pepper, but eventually brought it to East Africa and Asia where it was integrated into their cooking. Here it adopted its playfully repetitive name.
“Both the indigenous peoples and the settlers adapted the pepper into their food. Mozambique appears to be where the sauce first appeared, with the indigenous population adopting certain Portuguese traditions such as cooking chicken with lemon,” Larson delineates. This helps to illuminate why, at the shop, we offer both African piri piri chilies which is simply the original Birdseye chili (https://www.salty-savory-sweet.com/african-piri-piri-chile-powder/), and the Portuguese Piri Piri which was created based on the sauce that arose in Mozambique, and was then brought back to Portugal. Yes, there’s a serious history lesson imbedded in this pepper.
As a chili novice myself when I first arrived, piri piri was a wonderful entrance into both heat and flavor. For our Portuguese piri piri seasoning at the shop, the piri piri chiles are blended with lemon peel and garlic, which offer a zesty, vibrant citrus amidst the heat. We recommend adding this to olive oil and lemon juice to make a hot sauce, or simply using as a dry rub for poultry, meat or seafood. The first time I tasted this was sprinkled on leftover stir-fry I had brought to work that day, which was completely revived by this collision of heat & citrus. On our site, you can find a wonderful receipe for Piri Piri Chicken: https://www.salty-savory-sweet.com/portuguese-piri-piri-chicken/. Amidst my research, I learned that this dish was popularized by the South African chain Nando’s, where my friend first tasted piri piri!
At the end of writing this, I am amazed by how a single pepper can unfurl into these interlocking stories, and I hope to share more with you soon!
Tasting the world one dish at a time,