Is Nando’s Portuguese?

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Last updated on October 27, 2023 | Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

Nandos uses the Rooster of Barcelos as part of its logo and its menu is made up of dishes such as peri-peri chicken and pastéis de nata. But is it actually Portuguese?

Ah, Nando’s! The name alone conjures up images of succulent peri-peri chicken, spicy rice, and those irresistible garlic breads. For many, a trip to Nando’s is a delightful culinary adventure, a taste of Portugal served up in a vibrant, contemporary setting.

But here lies the question that has sparked countless debates: Is Nando’s truly Portuguese? In this article, we’ll delve into the origins of this beloved restaurant chain, explore the cultural influences that have shaped its menu, and finally settle the debate on whether Nando’s can genuinely claim a Portuguese heritage.

According to Nando’s own website, the food has a Mozambican and Portuguese theme. The idea for the restaurant was conceived in 1987 after founders Fernando Duarte and Robert Brozin tried piri-piri chicken for the first time at a Portuguese takeaway in Johannesburg called Chickenland. They liked it so much that they purchased the restaurant and renamed it Nando’s after Fernando. The restaurant flourished and within two years there were four outlets: three in Johannesburg in South Africa and the other in Portugal. These days, there are no longer any Nando’s restaurants in Portugal and any Portuguese that have tried Nando’s will be quick to tell you that it’s not authentic Portuguese.

Many people say Nando’s is South African as the company headquarters are there and the company uses South African art to decorate its restaurants. In reality it’s a bit of a mish-mash of different cuisines and cultures that’s been jazzed up as a chain to compete with the likes of Pizza Hut and KFC. It’s not a bad chain (in fact, it’s a lot better than many of the alternatives) but it’s definitely not authentic Portuguese.

Saying “Portuguese-style”, as opposed to “Portuguese food“, gives you a little clue of where Nando’s stands. If you order piri-piri chicken in Portugal, for example in Guia where the dish is said to have been invented, what you’ll get is chicken, chips (or rice), and a salad. Nando’s own menu advertises something called “Portuguese rice,” but you won’t actually find this in Portugal.

In Portugal, You also don’t choose your level of spice from a spice-ometer, add extra sauces, or choose from a list of sides. You don’t choose the part of the chicken that you want to eat and there’s certainly nothing like hummus, cheesey garlic pitas, paella, or grilled corn on the menu. And it’s the same at just about every churrasqueira or restaurant throughout Portugal, which is where you’ll have to order it as you won’t find any Nando’s restaurants in Portugal.

Here are some of the menu items that are especially Portuguese-inspired:

  • Peri-Peri Chicken – Similar to piri-piri chicken, but not exactly the same.
  • Pastel de Nata – Very similar to a traditional pastel de nata, but it isn’t necessarily as good as one that you’ll get in Portugal, particularly Pastéis de Belém.

That said, sometimes it’s the closest thing you can find to Portuguese food. These days, there are Nando’s restaurants all over the world, including the UK, Canada, USA, Australia, and New Zealand. Beggars can’t be choosers after all, so if you can’t find an authentic Portuguese restaurant, this is a good substitute — and as restaurant chains go, it’s better-tasting and healthier than many of the alternatives.

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James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.