Why is "Portuguese chicken" only a Toronto thing?
June 8, 2015 4:28 PM   Subscribe

I live in an area with a significant Portuguese population (Rhode Island - southeastern Massachusetts), and I am currently visiting Lisbon. However, I have never seen the type of roast chicken advertised as "Portuguese chicken" anywhere other than Toronto. Okay, the Portuguese restaurants in my home area will serve you chicken, but they're not especially known for it. Is it just me, or does there not even seem to be that much roast chicken in Lisbon? (Delicious cuisine overall, though - especially the seafood!)

In fact, start typing in "Portuguese chicken" in Google, and "Portuguese chicken Toronto" will come up, regardless of where you are.

So, my question is...what is the origin of the "Portuguese chicken" apparently endemic to Toronto? Why don't I see much of it in Lisbon or in Rhode Island/Massachusetts?
posted by Seeking Direction to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hi there,
I don't know the exact origins, but Portuguese chicken is certainly a thing in Portugal. I'll leave it to others to recommend places in Lisbon, but a quick train to Cascais and the Jardim dos Frangos should satisfy many of your chicken cravings. And it is (or at least was) a cute little town.
posted by girl flaneur at 4:35 PM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nando's is a restaurant/takeaway specialising in chicken with a Portuguese/Mozambican theme which is in 30 countries (it started in South Africa).
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 4:38 PM on June 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I was going to mention Nando's as well. It is big in the UK.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:39 PM on June 8, 2015

It's been a long time since I was there, but I seem to recall having a Portuguese Chicken dish when I visited Macao. Maybe it's something Portuguese emigrants made up?
posted by adamrice at 4:42 PM on June 8, 2015

Your search engine results may be influenced by your past searches? It didn't suggest Toronto for me. And my top results were restaurants in NY and NJ.
posted by desuetude at 4:45 PM on June 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

I ate tons of rotisserie roast chicken when I was in Lisbon. This was in the mid-90s, so maybe the food scene has changed, but I think piri-piri chicken (frango piri piri, or frango assado, or frango no churrasco, or frango na brasa) with fries is called a "national dish" there. The travel sites all say the place for it is Bom Jardim.
posted by vunder at 4:47 PM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Nando's is Portuguese via Mozambique.

It's perhaps considered a local's thing in Portugal. As for why it's not a part of the Portuguese restaurant menus in southeastern MA and RI, that's perhaps because the immigrant communities there have distinct origins connected more to the Atlantic shipping trade, with a lot of Azoreans and Madeirans, and also because assimilation creates different hybrid cuisines to suit what the locals will pay for: compare the menus of Greek diners.
posted by holgate at 4:50 PM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I used to work in Toronto near St. Lawrence market...mmm...portuguese chicken... I know what you mean about it being a "thing" in Canada, and I would guess it is the same thing that has happened with most immigrant communities: one particular dish catches on with the locals, people go to restaurants looking for that particular dish, and eventually those immigrants become associated with that dish.

For example, for some reason kamjatang (pork bone soup) is super popular in Korean restaurants in Canada...it's a "thing"...but here in NYC it's virtually unknown despite the large Korean population.
posted by pravit at 5:11 PM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

The place I most remember getting the frango from in Lisbon was a takeout-only joint similar to this one, Frangasqueira Nacional.
posted by vunder at 5:12 PM on June 8, 2015

I live in Sydney's inner west. It's certainly a thing here. And yeah, Nando's.
posted by taff at 5:21 PM on June 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

this might help: wikipedia entry for churrasco
posted by girlpublisher at 5:38 PM on June 8, 2015

For what it's worth, Portuguese chicken is enough of a thing in Montreal for MtlBlog to do a Top 7 List.
posted by mhum at 5:43 PM on June 8, 2015

Yeah, it was a thing for a while in Melbourne (Australia, not Florida) too. Many of the chook shops experimented with it. (Roast chicken, or chook, is so much of a thing in Australia that you get shops that pretty much just sell rotisserie chicken + sides. Think KFC but with roast chicken rather than fried.) I think Nando's is the one which has lasted most successfully, but there are still others.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:49 PM on June 8, 2015

Yeah, portugese chicken is not unique to Toronto. There's a lot of it in Sydney and Melbourne. Nando's is actually pretty sucessful in Australia, but there are a couple of other chains like Ogalo, and a variety of indie roast chicken joints in Sydney at least.

In fact, start typing in "Portuguese chicken" in Google, and "Portuguese chicken Toronto" will come up, regardless of where you are.

Google and other search engines optimise search results according to your location and past searches.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:56 PM on June 8, 2015

As girlpublisher said, the canonical term for the Portuguese/Brazilian barbeque technique for chicken (and other meats) is churrasco, and that search will show results from several cities. If you add "chicken" or "frango", you'll get more precise hits.

But yes, it's especially popular in Toronto. I'm still trying to figure out how the veggies get dressed.
posted by maudlin at 6:30 PM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

My sister still misses the Portuguese chicken she got at a local spot when she lived in Huntington Beach, CA. She hasn't found a similar place in the Bay Area.
posted by quince at 7:41 PM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

A cuisine called Macanese is very popular in Macau, a former Portuguese colony. The cuisine is generally described as a combination of Portuguese and Chinese food with Southeast Asian and African influences. Macanese chicken and seafood are especially good.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 8:13 PM on June 8, 2015

Quince, I'm in Huntington Beach and am now finding myself intrigued by this mysterious Portuguese Chicken. Does your sister recall the name of that local spot?
posted by platinum at 8:19 PM on June 8, 2015

Is it just me, or does there not even seem to be that much roast chicken in Lisbon?

You are correct. Roast chicken is not common in Lisbon. It is also not a local's thing. In fact, quite the opposite.

Firstly, if you do find it in Portugal, it will be in the Algarve, not in Lisbon. It is sort of like going to Boston and looking for Philly cheese steak. It is regional.

Secondly, it is still more of a tourist thing which got exported abroad. All the Brits and other Algarve tourists love it and so there is no small number of Frango places or Peri-Peri/Piri-Piri places there.

Finally, "Churrasco" is a Brazilian term. I guess you might see it in places run by Brazilians, but the term is not common in Portugal.

Nando's bears as much relation to Portuguese food as Chipotle does to Mexican food.
posted by vacapinta at 1:39 AM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I live in Sydney's inner west. It's certainly a thing here.

posted by Quilford at 6:30 AM on June 9, 2015

This is certainly a thing in the area around Newark New Jersey. I worked briefly for a company that was Portuguese owned in a Brazilian neighborhood. About once a week we ordered roast chicken and sides as a family meal. The Brazilian places tended to be better than the actual Portuguese places (and cheaper). I miss the chicken.
posted by palindromeisnotapalindrome at 7:52 AM on June 9, 2015

I just got 413,000 results in a Google search for "Montreal Portuguese Chicken" (here's the first result). Also I am from São Paulo and Portuguese-style rotisserie chicken is a thing, we don't call it "Portuguese chicken" because it would be as silly as calling poutine "quebecois poutine" in Quebec or Canada.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 9:14 AM on June 9, 2015

Also: did you try different searches in Portuguese instead of English? ;)
posted by TheGoodBlood at 9:15 AM on June 9, 2015

I've seen piri piri at South African places too.
posted by brujita at 12:06 PM on June 9, 2015

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