Foodie Friday: Peri-Peri Chicken

Having just spent 9 months in Latin America we consider ourselves to be something of chicken experts. For several months in Central America, if we weren’t eating chicken with our rice and beans it was because we were eating eggs with our rice and beans. So imagine our surprise here in Africa to find equally great chicken once again, but this time the chicken owes its success to the mix of cultures here in South Africa.

Although it is obvious that this country consists of people of English decent and African decent, it might be less obvious how many other cultures call South Africa home. There are the Afrikaans, descendants of the original Dutch settlers, sometimes called Boers. The Portuguese settled the country just to the north (Mozambique) placing some Iberian culinary delight to the mix. And just like up north in England, being part of the commonwealth (South Africa left the commonwealth toward the end of Apartheid) lead to large influx of Indians, with their own distinct culture and tastes.

Today, the spicy chicken this mix has created, mostly on account of the piri-piri (translates as ‘hot pepper’) spice which the Portuguese settlers discovered when they arrived here in Africa, and a scent or two from Asia courtesy of the Indian influence. Mixed with some lemon, garlic, and I’m sure some other secrets, Peri-Peri chicken has been exported all over the world through a restaurant called Nando’s Peri-Peri. (There is one in DC…guess what, it’s not Peruvian!) The Peri-Peri seasoning is spicy to say the least, never disappointing, and always in need of a lot of water to help wash it down.

Business is Business…

There’s always someone with something to sell. No matter where we are, on a bus, on a beach or at a famous historical site, there are vendors, both young and old hoping to make a buck. Snacks, cold drinks, knick-nacks, entire chicken meals, random bathroom tools to super glue and even a kids picture dictionary its a veritable shopping mall of goods on the go. While it can be annoying, in the case of a cold beverage on a hot bus, its often exactly what you want at the moment. Given that we’re traveling with small backpacks I often don’t even look at the handi-crafts that amble by for fear that I’ll want it and won’t have a place to put it. So when laying out on the beach in Tofo, Mozambique the kids came by with string bracelets, necklaces and their smiles pitch, I always replied “No, thanks.” in Portuguese. This had little effect, and hour after hour the same entrepreneurial children came by again… and again. Finally I gave up and just greeted and shooed them away in Spanish.

One boy, age 13, came by probably half a dozen times one afternoon. After declining his sales pitch, in Portuguese, English and Spanish he came by late in the afternoon, this time with a new offer. “Can I look at the pictures while you read?” he asked me in beginner’s English. Enthusiastically we went through the National Geographic magazine I was reading, him asking lots of questions and me explaining the pictures, ads, and articles in English or Spanish. As we went through the magazine more and more kids came over to look at the pictures. By the time we were half way through the magazine three or four young entrepreneurs crowded around the magazine some trying to listen to my explanations others just staring blankly at the pictures. The kids were amazed at the pictures of Angkor Wat, and if anyone from National Geographic is reading this please insert more maps! They had no sense of where Cambodia was in relation to Mozambique, so eventually we drew a crude map in the sand. Finally my friend asked if he could have the magazine when I was done reading it. “I will learn English in school next year,” he told me as he explained that he wanted to show the pictures to his siblings.

When confronted with a child in the developing world who asks for something educational like a National Geographic magazine what can you do but hand over the magazine? Handing it to him I made him promise to continue to work on reading English before school started. He promised me he’d read every night and in a gesture of friendship and thanks gave me one of his little string bracelets. As he carefully wrapped the magazine in a newspaper and put it in his backpack he thanked me and walked away with the other kids.

Of course everyone likes to think they have an impact, and perhaps no one more so than travelers. I was completely aglow as the kids walked away, thinking I had really made an impact on this boy’s life. Over the course of the hour he was so genuinely enthusiastic about the magazine’s contents and the pictures that I had the impression he found it to be a “treasure.” Walking through the market on the way back to our lodging we were again accosted by entrepreneurs big and small. With his same old sales pitch my friend tried to sell me a matching friendship bracelet to the one he gave me. As one little girl infamously said in Guatemala, “Business is business.”

Off to Mozambique

Wanted: Rest and relaxation for two weary travelers starting their travels in Africa.

Found: Tofo Bay, Mozambique.

Back in September we met a wonderful group of South African’s in Bolivia. Upon hearing our arrival date in Johannesburg they quickly informed us that well, the entire country is on holiday from mid-December to mid-January. Translation: transportation, accommodation and activities would be completely booked or ridiculously crowded and overpriced. Ouch.So our plan, at their suggestion was to hang out on the beach in Mozambique for a week or so and let the crowds have their fun and go back to work.

That was the plan. What we found when we arrived in Mozambique was an ideal little vacation spot on the Indian Ocean. We popped our tent up and headed to the beach. While the town of Tofo is developed its not overly touristy and so its got the right mix of enough to do that you’re not bored, but enough space so you’re not overrun. The vibe was very lassaiz-faire. Do as much or as little as you want the town seemed to say. So we jumped right in. We learned the hard way to put sunscreen on the back of your knees when surfing and to put your flip flops on before actually walking up the beach after jumping off the dive boat. Surfing it seems, is a lot harder than it looks. After a two hour lesson, which really amounted to paddling out against the waves, catching one, trying to stand up and falling, we were beat and burned. Success was fleeting, but just so its on the record, we both successfully “surfed”.

One of the most popular activities in Tofo is diving. According to other divers, Tofo has some of the best diving in Africa. Since we missed the whale sharks in Honduras and Belize, we figured we might as well go ahead and dive here in the hopes of seeing something neat. Admittedly we are new to diving, so when we saw our first octopus we were excited. And then there were schools of trigger fish and natal knifejaws, lionfish and some spotted rays to keep our eyes busy. Enthralled, we went for two more dives gaining our advanced deep water dive certification. No whale sharks, but we saw tons of honeycomb moray eels and a dragon moray, which is apparently very rare. Also saw some huge barramundi cod, which frankly I didn’t want coming anywhere near me. Diving is fun, but expensive. If we come home early, diving might just be the cause!

We spent the rest of our days eating fish and chicken meals, lounging by a pool and watched the stars come out at night. It was peaceful, relaxed and hot. Ridiculous “we’re barely in the tropics right now” hot. Its a hot sun in Mozambique, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

During the day we could find relief in the shade or in the ocean, but at night we melted away like butter on a frying pan. Someone told us that the temperature was above 35C and you know what I believed it. A week lying by the Indian Ocean was about all the rest and relaxation we could take. Any more time in the water and we would have grown gills. As luck would have it we found some rather exciting news online and we were off to South Africa.

Foodie Friday: The Fish of Mozambique

We were sitting on the beach, around 10am, waiting for our surf lesson to begin. In front of us went one, then another, and finally a third before our lesson started. The first two fishermen were carrying barracuda, apparently safe to eat here, the third was carrying something else equally large that we could not identify.

Over the cosrse of our days in Tofo we were able to literally follow the entire process beginning with what I just described on the beach. The fishermen would return from the morning with their catch, we even passed them as we set off on our SCUBA trip. Then they’d walk the fish up the beach to the main market and parking area and sell the fish. Sometimes it would be placed on a combi, alongside a big bucket of the freshest jumbo prawns you’ve ever seen, and sent into town and other times the fisherman would just stand there with it on a table and slice of big steaks as people would walk up…it never sat there for long.

Other times it would just go into the neighboring restaurant….that’s where we ate it. The first time I had barracuda, the second it was a sailfish….at least I think that’s what the woman said. We sat down to a table at the only “local” establishment in the area which could best be described as Hell’s Kitchen on account of the stifling heat. We ordered, a couple of slightly cool cokes as well, and were joined by several “locals” enjoying their lunch as well.

The biggest disappointment to the sea’s bounty in Tofo was that it wasn’t accompanied by the other bounties that grow here…notably cashew nuts and pineapple. But given that my fresh fish and rice only put us back $2 each we could afford to pay an additional $1 for a pound of fresh cashews to snack on as we walked back to our campsite.