The African Birds Eye Pepper

The African Birds Eye Pepper

On my first trip to southern Africa, I discovered a dish that I fell in love with: peri peri chicken fron Nando’s.  Peri-Peri Chicken is a must on your trip to Botswana or South Africa! Peri-Peri is the perfect blend of flavor and fire.

Technically, it should be piri-piri and not peri-peri. It is also known as peli-peli … but what is the origins of the name and the dish? Piri-piri is the name used in Mozambique and Angola to describe the African bird’s-eye chili. The variations in spelling derive from the various pronunciations of the word in parts of Africa. Although “piri-piri” is the correct spelling in Portuguese, in South Africa and Botswana, it is spelled “Peri-Peri”, so for this article, that’s what we will call it!

The African bird’s eye pepper is quite hot, measuring around 100,000 SHU (Scoville heat units). By comparison, a jalapena is about 10,000 SHU and the Habanero or Jamaican Scotch Bonnet are also around 100,000 SHU – so this is one hot pepper.

South Africa’s (and Botswana’s) love of Peri-Peri ties to the general love in South Africa of many Mozambican dishes with Portuguese names. In Mozambican cuisine, Peri-Peri is often used in preparing sauces and marinades for roast and grilled dishes, especially chicken but also shrimp and various fish.

The adventurous Portuguese explorers, that had made Southern Africa their home, took full advantage of the rich, fertile soils and the glorious climate to cultivate and nurture the newly discovered little treasure called Peri Peri.  The local Africans had introduced the settlers to Peri-Peri and it became part of their everyday culinary life. The explorers realized the positive and powerful effects Peri-Peri had in their cooking and ultimately on their lives, so they made sure there was always enough Peri-Peri for everyone.

They experimented with Peri-Peri in a variety of exotic dishes and of course with chicken, and by blending with other natural ingredients like herbs, spices, lemons and vinegar they created their own secret blends of Peri-Peri. It was these Peri-Peri blends that became family secrets, with each family trying to create their own recipe as a matter of pride.




In general, when you think Peri-Peri and southern Africa, you think Nando’s. Nando’s is a the Portuguese-themed chicken restaurant chain which originated in South Africa from Portuguese who left Mozambique after the independence in 1975.  The first Nando’s restaurant was opened in 1987 in Johannesburg, South Africa by two friends, Robert Brozin and Fernando Duarte. These original owners continue to play an active role in the management and care of Nando’s … they are sort of the Harlan Sanders of Africa if you are a KFC fan.  As a side note, Botswana doesn’t seem to have any McDonald’s but they have lots of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in country – but not in Kasane!
Nando’s is flame-grilled from never frozen birds which have been marinated for 24 hours (this is key!).  Customers choose their chicken from a menu that features several items, but you only need to look at two: half or quarter butterfly-cut chicken.   You do get to choose the Peri-Peri flavor that fits your spiciness tolerance and taste: the chicken can be basting from mild, hot, extra hot and, for wimps, there is the lemon and herb.

Whether chicken lovers prefer Nando’s Peri-Peri chicken prepared with the not-so-spicy lemon and herb or fiery extra hot (for the slightly insane), they will always get to taste the unique flavor of their chicken. Apart from enhancing almost everything that’s edible (even drinkable) with the perfect balance of heat and taste, Nando’s Peri-Peri has some other amazing special effects. It is well known that Nando’s Peri-Peri has a high content of vitamin C and that our Peri-Peri releases endorphins. Endorphins are responsible for that natural high that when combined with excited taste buds cause people to develop a healthy addiction to Nando’s Peri-Peri. Nando’s Peri-Peri is rumored to have an enormously positive effect on the libido, which also explains why Nando’s lovers always want more. Only the best natural ingredients are used in creating our Peri-Peri.

While all Nando’s Peri-Peri recipes and chicken-bastings to sauces remain a closely guarded secret. You can bring some of Nando’s home with you.  All of the Nando’s sells bottles of all of their sauces.  I have also found these on Amazon, but they’re a little more expensive that way.

Nando's Sauces and Marinades

Nando's Sauces and Marinades

As I said in the beginning, Peri-Peri Chicken is a must on your trip to Botswana or South Africa!

A post script to be nice: If you made the mistake of not buying a case of Nando’s sauces while in Africa, or if you’re just a ‘do it yourself person’, I have you covered.  The following is my personal Peri-Peri recipe.  Key is the zest of lemon and the 24 hour marinade period:

Peri-Peri Chicken

The most basic peri-peri marinade recipe calls for just oil, cayenne pepper or minced fresh hot chile pepper, and salt. However many peri-peri recipes add an acidic liquid (usually lemon or lime juice, or vinegar, or possibly wine or liquor) which adds a tang and tenderizes the chicken.   I think that is what Nando’s does, so that is what  is included in my recipe.



  • 1 tablespoon, plus 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3 Serrano or jalapeño peppers, stemmed, ribs and seeds removed, and rough chopped
  • 1 Habanero, stems, ribs and seeds removed (for the faint, this is optional)
  • 1 teaspoon of Cayenne, (paprika if you want milder marinade)
  • 1 fresh squeezed lemon
  • Zest of the lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


Heat a small saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and peppers to the pan. Saute, stirring often, until the edges of the garlic start to turn brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the lemon juice to the pan, and remove from the heat.

Place the contents of the saute pan in a blender and add the salt. Puree the peppers and garlic in the blender until mostly smooth. Drizzle the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil through the feed tube of the lid of the blender. Let cool before using, and store refrigerated in an airtight container.

Butterfly chicken (Split Breast bone & Pound lightly to flatten chicken). Place butterflied chicken in a large Ziploc bag and add enough marinade to coat chicken. Marinate in bag for 24 hours (or up to 3 days), refrigerated.

When it’s time to ear: Prepare the barbeque grill (known as a braii in Botswana and South Africa) until chicken is cooked through, turning occasionally and basting with additional pepper sauce, approximately 45 – 60 minutes.

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