African flavors topped the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 What’s Hot list, trending at 62 percent, above Latin American, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian flavors. As a “mover and shaker,” African flavors saw a 20 percent jump in popularity from 2015 to 2016.
On Fire: Nando’s PERi-PERi
Nando’s PERi-PERi, the South African-Portuguese chain known for its spicy flame-grilled chicken that is marinated for 24 hours, continues to expand across the country. The first Nando’s opened in 1987 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has since spread to 23 countries on 5 continents. Since opening its first U.S. location in Washington, D.C., in 2008, the chain has added more than two dozen restaurants across Virginia, Maryland, Chicago and Baltimore. In Chicago alone, Nando’s PERi-PERi added four locations in just the past year, with more to come.
Wildly successful as a result of its cult following across the world, Nando’s focuses on authentic, fresh food inspired by South African and Portuguese flavors in a design-forward setting with bright colors, earthy textures, sofa-style banquettes, Senegalese woven pendant lamps and unique artwork. The chain is a large collector of South African contemporary art. In the United States alone, there are more than 600 pieces of original art in Nando’s restaurants.
A spicy blend of hot chiles, garlic, cumin, coriander and olive oil, this Tunisian condiment has made its way into the American mainstream, rivaling Sriracha among ethnic “ketchups.” Often available for foodservice operators in bulk canned form, many use the condiment to flavor soups and stews, add some kick to a house-made aioli, and spice up a marinade for chicken, fish and lamb.
Opened a year ago in Harlem, Streetbird Rotisserie is celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s latest concept. The restaurant blends Samuelsson’s Ethiopian and Swedish heritage as well as other global flavors with a focus on creative, delectable chicken and other dishes in a graffiti-decorated space inspired by the hip-hop culture of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. In a riff on the traditional Ethiopian doro wat, the chicken stew includes injera flatbread, fresh cheese and a boiled egg in a hearty one-pot dish.
In the front dining area, repurposed materials, including locally derived wood and West African fabric, create a layered aesthetic on the banquettes, while Harlem church pews repurposed as benches are covered in vintage designer textiles from labels like Adidas, Gucci and Louis Vuitton.