The African chicken at Clube Militar in Macau.
Food

Why this Chinese city’s representative dish is called African chicken

Nov 29, 2018

Macau, a former Portuguese colony on the southern tip of China, is a long way from Africa, but its “national dish” is a curry-like concoction called African chicken.

These days, virtually every restaurant has it on the menu. Commonly regarded as the quintessential Macanese dish, African chicken represents the enduring link between the city and its former colonizer, Portugal.

A chef at Sands Macao prepares African chicken by layering gravy on a piece of grilled chicken.
A chef at Sands Macao prepares African chicken by layering gravy on a piece of grilled chicken. / Photo: Sands Macao

African chicken is a variant of galinha com piri-piri, a popular dish in southern Africa that was brought over to Macau in the early 1950s.

At the time, the Portuguese garrison in Macau was mostly drawn from the African territories of Mozambique and Angola. (Piri-piri takes its name from the fiery Malagueta chilli commonly used in Mozambique.)

A handful of those army officers eventually retired in Macau and opened cafes which served foods that they and their friends had come to like in the course of their overseas service.

African chicken was one of them.

African chicken.
African chicken. / Photo: Sands Macao

The first place to offer it was the Pousada de Macau on the waterfront next to the government buildings.

Word soon spread about the tasty newcomer, and as more visitors to Macau sought it out, other restaurants added it to their menus. Tourist folklore surrounding the dish grew, and the legend of Macau’s national dish took off.

(Read more: Inside America’s only Macanese restaurant

As the years went by and more eateries introduced their own versions of African chicken, the recipe was steadily adapted for the sweeter palate of locals.

The African chicken of today is topped with lightly spiced coconut gravy, a far cry from its spicier predecessor.

Adapted from an original article first published in the South China Morning Post.