Many say that the town of Guia on the Algarve coast has the best Piri Piri chicken in Portugal. Certainly the sheer number of piri piri restaurants or churrasquerias suggest that there is a meeting of the minds where they share an enthusiasm for one of Portugal's most popular food exports. We just couldn't resist an afternoon sampling what Guia had to offer.
It is said that Piri Piri chicken was first invented in Angola and Mozambique when Portuguese settlers arrived with birds eye chilies which were known as piri-piri in Swahili. Just a note: while in Australia it's called peri peri, in Portugal it's piri piri.
So what makes a good piri piri chicken? You start with the chicken. Order Piri piri chicken anywhere in Guia and you'll be struck by how petite the chickens are compared to our enormous breasted chickens. The drumsticks and wings are positively dainty.
Most agree that the chicken must be cooked on coals to achieve the distinctive crispiness and flavour. Likewise the chicken must be flattened to ensure even cooking. The marinade is a simple but delicious combination of garlic, chilli, oil and lemon and probably a few treasured trade secrets too.
A piri piri chicken meal in Algarve consists of the bone in chicken, cut into pieces along with a plate of fries and you also usually order a tomato and onion salad to go with it. In the North of Portugal fries are usually replaced by rice while Algarve is firmly in the fries category. A whole chicken is around €13-14 and you can also order half chicken serves.
We take the drive to Guia via Monchique to Lisbon. The main street of Guia holds car dealerships and chicken shops and we edge our way around to a smaller street where Restaurant Ramires is located. Ramires is what some say is the best piri piri chicken place in Portugal. Certainly it's a pretty restaurant with blue and white Portuguese style tiles.
The original owner Jose Carlos Ramires is immortalised in a bronze bust and in murals all over the walls. In 1964 his simple cafe didn't even serve piri piri chicken but he began cooking it then to satisfy travellers that had been to Angola and wanted to eat piri piri chicken again.
Our waiter says, "piri piri?" and we nod yes and he puts through an order for a standard meal.
The chicken comes out and it's gleaming with crispiness. I take a bite, it's seasoned well with a super crispy skin to it. Some pieces are a bit dry like the wing but overall the flavour is good and the crispiness almost approaches that of a fried chicken.
The fries are a bit soft, that's the way here we've noticed as they tend to be hand cut fries that are softer. The tomato and onion salad has crisp semi ripe tomatoes in it although it is seasoned generously with herbs and olive oil.
"How about we try another place?" I ask Mr NQN because I had heard of another place, Restaurant O Ribeirinho who is said to be a close rival and some say even better. We had driven past it on the main road and it's a 4 minute drive away.
The interior is entirely different and it's a bit more down home looking. A sour faced woman mans the til while the waiters are friendly. I overhear another couple talking to the waiter about getting their chicken "Picante" and not realising that was an option we order half our chicken regular piri piri and another half Picante or very hot.
We order the same accompaniments-tomato and onion salad and the chicken like at Ramires comes with fries. I order ketchup and mayo to go with my fries (sauce is life!).
Our chicken comes out on two plates and I take a bite of the regular piri piri. It's so juicy and succulent and I can't stop eating it. It's more moist that the chicken at Ramires but also less crispy so there are two different styles. And needless to say that the picante chicken is my favourite although the "very hot" is really not that much hotter at all than the regular. And while we get piri piri sauce in Australia, a spicy orange coloured sauce that they put on top of their chicken to add spiciness, the chicken here doesn't come with it.
Another nice surprise are the sides-the tomato and onion salad has fresh, sweet red tomatoes while the fries are the first crispy fries that we've had. Sure the ketchup and mayo don't materialise but hey I didn't need them because the fries were that good. And despite the fact that we've eaten so much chicken Mr NQN finishes all the chicken.
And then we are off to Lisbon next!
So tell me Dear Reader, do you like piri piri chicken? Regular or picante for you? Would you go for a breast or thigh portion?
These meals were independently paid for.
R. 25 de Abril 14, 8200-433 Guia, Portugal
Open 7 days 12–11pm
Phone: +351 289 561 232
Restaurant O Ribeirinho
Estrada Nacional 125, 8200-413 Albufeira, Portugal
Open 7 days 12–3pm, 7–11pm
Phone: +351 289 561 442