Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Portugal’

Eating Nando’s in Gaborone

I spent most of last week at the biennial gathering of historians organised by the Southern African Historical Society. The conference at the University of Botswana was fantastic. Gaborone was, well, less so.* I think that the city is best summed up by an exchange between a conference delegate and her husband, who had spent the morning exploring downtown Gaborone. When asked what he had discovered, he answered: ‘There’s a Nando’s.’

This comment is interesting for many reasons. One of the most striking features of Gaborone – other than the many posters for visiting gospel choirs and the absence of any form of newspaper advertising – is its malls. Having had lunch and dinner at two of them, it seems to me that most of the major shops and restaurants in the city are branches of South African chains: from Spur, that staple of middle South Africa, to the relatively upmarket Primi Piatti. Given the hostility which locals appear to reserve for South Africans – and relations between the two countries became particularly tense during the late 1980s, when ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe exiles in Gaborone became the target of the apartheid state’s raids – this felt deeply ironic at the time.

Nando’s is an odd addition to the pantheon of South African culinary exports. In his speech delivered at the University of Cape Town during his recent visit to the country, Barack Obama referred to Nando’s – alongside the vuvuzela and Freshlyground – as prime examples of South African institutions. But like so many cultural icons which seem to embody national identity, Nando’s was founded by immigrants.

When I mentioned to friends in the UK that Nando’s is South African, I was often greeted with expressions of confusion. Surely, they argued, it’s Portuguese? Well, yes and no. Before its devastating civil war, Mozambique was a popular destination particularly for young, white South Africans. They visited its pristine beaches, its fun capital Maputo (Lourenço Marques before 1975), and ate its excellent and distinctive cuisine. Indeed prawns from Mozambique are still a regional delicacy. Radio Lourenço Marques – which could be picked up in South Africa – played the music banned by South African broadcasters. Mozambique represented, for young whites at least, relative freedom from the restrictions of a repressive and oppressive South African state.

For part of its civil war (1977-1992), South Africans escaping the country travelled to Mozambique to join up with the exiled ANC. Moving in the opposite direction, legions of whites migrated southwards to South Africa after Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975. Two of these exiles founded Nando’s in Rosettenville, a Johannesburg suburb with large ex-patriot Portuguese populations from Mozambique and Madeira. Although by no means the first or only chicken fast-food restaurant in South Africa – local Chicken Licken (opened in 1981) and foreign KFC (introduced in 1971) do a roaring trade – Nando’s distinctiveness lies partly in its adaptation of the hybrid Afro-Lusophone cuisine which developed in Mozambique.

The chain is probably best known for popularising peri-peri – a sharp, spicy sauce which is a feature of both Portuguese and Mozambican cooking. Its name derives from the Swahili word for the African bird’s eye chilli – the pili pili – which was taken back to Portugal by traders who had been present along the east African coast since the sixteenth century. Portuguese piri piri sauce entered Mozambique with the advent of white settlement, where it was re-adapted by Africans.

Nando's comments on the Protection of State Information Bill.

Nando’s comments on the Protection of State Information Bill.

Following the first wave of white South Africans to leave the country during the transition, Nando’s opened its first overseas branch in Australia in 1990. Franchises in the UK (1992), Botswana (1993), Canada (1994), Malaysia (1998), Pakistan (2001), and elsewhere followed. It now operates in the United States and around southern Africa. It doesn’t, as far as I can tell, have a branch in Mozambique.

Nando’s menu is very obviously the product of the long interaction between Africans and Portuguese interlopers over the course of around four centuries. It purveys a global cuisine, and one which has become increasingly globalised as it adapts itself to the tastes and expectations of new countries and new customers. The restaurants in the UK, for instance, are noticeably more upmarket than the Nando’s outlets in South Africa. It’s also the product of the geopolitics of late twentieth-century southern Africa. It was founded as a result of white Mozambicans’ migration to South Africa in the mid-1970s, and catered to local enthusiasm for Mozambican cooking both among migrant Mozambican mine workers as well as those whites who had holidayed in Mozambique. Its first attempt at opening an international store accompanied white South Africans’ migration to Australia.

And yet, for all its hybrid identity, Nando’s identifies itself as a distinctively South African brand – and particularly through its advertising campaigns. Nando’s has a reputation for responding quickly and wittily to political controversies – like blacking out its ads during protests against the potentially oppressive Protection of State Information Bill in 2011. Although this is a strategy which backfires occasionally, it means that Nando’s can cash in – quite literally – by siding with (middle-class?) South Africans’ exasperation with the government and the country’s politicians.

Nando's expresses support for the Springboks, the national rugby team. 'Moer hulle' translates roughly as 'fuck them'. You wouldn't say this in front of your grandmother.

Nando’s expresses support for the Springboks, the national rugby team. ‘Moer hulle’ translates roughly as ‘fuck them’. You wouldn’t say this in front of your grandmother.

It was this which made Nando’s presence in Gaborone feel incongruous. Despite its expensive PR campaigns, Botswana has a deserved reputation for being one of the most secretive states in southern Africa. It’s particularly intolerant of dissent, and has expelled those who have challenged the political status quo. As a recipient of the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Golden Padlock award in 2011, the real country is worlds away from Alexander McCall Smith’s sanitised and gently patronising depiction of Botswana’s people and politics. I doubt that Nando’s advertising would be legal in Gaborone.

*Never, ever trust the taxi drivers of Gaborone to get you to the airport in time for your early flight to Joburg. And particularly not those who congregate at the Gaborone Southern Sun at 4am. Trust me on this one.

Creative Commons License
Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Affordable Luxury

I had a powerful sense of déjà vu yesterday as I read this weekend’s Financial Times. As the news section described the world economy’s recent nose-dive and entry into Phase Five of the early twenty-first century’s Great Depression, the FT’s monthly magazine How to spend it blithely informed its readers that ‘Homes are constantly borrowing bright ideas from luxury hotels.’ And went on to recommend the installation of architect-designed pool houses – which tend to go for around £3,000 per square metre.

Have you read How to spend it? If ever there was a cultural artefact which encapsulated the excess and arrogance of the boom time before the near-collapse of the British and American financial systems in 2008, then this is it. It’s a magazine aimed at the super-rich – at the sort of people who have so much money that they need advice on how they should spend it. I read it – or, at least, I read as much of it as I can before I’m engulfed with rage – because it offers an insight into a bizarre, yet incredibly powerful, world to which I will never have access. (And, frankly, life’s far too short to spend months in search of the perfect example of summer cashmere.)

Printed on glossy, A3-sized sheets of paper, it describes trends in the art market and fashion world; which yacht is de rigeur this season; where best to order bespoke jewellery; and whether or not it’s worth hiring a private chef. How to spend it is a celebration not of money – that would be vulgar – but, rather, of luxury.

In this week’s edition, Terence Conran comments in an article about his perfect weekend (which features his routine in his Georgian manor, designing furniture, and resting by his specially-altered river), that ‘luxury usually means simplicity, or easy living, rather than things that cost a lot of money.’ That Conran’s description of luxury as costing nothing is in a magazine which devotes itself to the top-end, exclusive, and incredibly expensive, is a pleasing irony. But it did make me think about how we define luxury, and particularly as regards food.

In his landmark study Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (1985), the anthropologist Sidney Mintz traces how in Britain, sugar shifted from being a luxury available only to the very wealthy, to being an affordable commodity for most people by the early nineteenth century. Yet despite this –  despite the fact that sugar was cheap and consumed in large quantities by the British population, and particularly by the poor – it was still seen as a treat. It became an affordable or everyday luxury.

It was the increasing popularity and cheapness of sugar – and it gradually replaced honey as the world’s sweetener of choice – which caused the democratisation of a range of other products, and chiefly chocolate, tea, and coffee. Chocolate, once associated with ritual and celebration in pre-Columbian Mexico, was introduced as a beverage to Spain in 1527, but only took off In Europe once sugar was added to it. It became popular among the aristocracy, partly because it tasted delicious but also as a result of its supposed medicinal qualities. It became widely available at the end of the eighteenth century when imports increased and the production of solid chocolate was industrialised.

Similarly, coffee arrived in Europe via Turkey – cafes were opened in Constantinople from 1554, and the first coffee house in Paris was established in 1672 – and more efficient production, bigger imports, and the relatively new idea of sweetening coffee with sugar meant that it was popular throughout the continent by the 1700s. Tea was introduced to Britain by Catherine of Braganza, Charles II’s Portuguese wife, but it was only when someone discovered that stirring sugar into it made it less bitter, that it gained a bigger audience among the middle and upper classes. It was heavily promoted by the financially shaky East India Company, and also by the British government in the mid-eighteenth century as an alternative to alcohol. A drop in the tea price in 1784 caused the spike in British tea drinking: between 1801 and 1810, 12,000 tons of tea was drunk annually in Britain. By 1890, that soared to almost 90,000 tons.

All of these affordable luxuries – tea, sugar, coffee, and chocolate – were popularised because innovations in technology and higher yields abroad made it possible for prices to fall at home. What revolutionised the cultivation the crops was the fact that they could be grown successfully all over the world – tea was taken from south-east Asia to east Africa, coffee from Ethiopia to south-east Asia and Brazil, and chocolate from central America to west Africa and south-east Asia – and in vast plantations.

It’s little wonder that colonialism is so closely associated with the production of all of these commodities, and particularly with sugar. Not only were imperial powers, most notably the Dutch, Portuguese, and British, responsible for globalising the cultivation of these crops, but they put slaves to work on tea, coffee, and sugar plantations. The plantation system of farming – in which a single crop is farmed over a vast area – is labour intensive, and European colonisers worked their slaves, literally, to death.

In this way, slave labour allowed for the democratisation of chocolate, sugar, tea, and coffee. This is particularly ironic in the case of coffee. Coffee houses were connected to the rise of modernity in Europe. Anne E.C. McCants explains:

The expression ‘to break bread together’ now has an archaic feel to it. A proximate contemporary substitute, albeit devoid of the powerful religious significance of bread, is to ‘go out for a cup of coffee’, which is at least as much about conversation as it is about nourishment per se. Historians associate this total reorientation of the culture of food and drink with the substitution of coffeehouses for taverns; the wider dissemination of public news; trading on the stock exchange; … new arrangements of domestic and public space; [and] the ability to sustain new industrial work schedules despite their tedium….

Not only is there a connection between coffee drinking and the Enlightenment and democracy in Europe, but also between coffee, sugar, tea, and chocolate – and capitalism and consumerism. Joyce Appleby writes:

American slave-worked plantations and mechanical wizardry for pumping water, smelting metals, and powering textile factories…may seem unconnected. Certainly we have been loath to link slavery to the contributions of a free enterprise system, but they must be recognised as twin responses to the capitalist genie that had escaped the lamp of tradition during the seventeenth century. Both represented radical departures from previous practices.

Both factories and plantations took a significant capital investment to set up; both produced healthy profits which were reinvested; both relied on plentiful, cheap labour; and both introduced new work routines. Appleby describes sugar as ‘one of capitalism’s first great bonanzas’, arguing that ‘its successes also revealed the power of the profit motive to override any cultural inhibitions to gross exploitation.’

As sugar shaped the capitalist system of the eighteenth century, so it did consumerism. Demand for particular items had driven trade for hundreds of years, but it was only during the eighteenth century that widespread demand from all classes of people, and particularly in Britain where wages tended to be higher, began to fuel capitalist economies:

[A] large body of domestic consumers fuelled England’s commercial expansion and a richly elaborated material culture dependent upon the market. … New attachments to objects, a raging delight in novelties, and the pleasures of urban sociability bespoke a deep engagement with the material world that made spending seem more beneficial to the economy than did parsimony.

As Appleby implies, consumerism links a desire for things with the construction of identities. Sugar, coffee, chocolate, and tea were the first foodstuffs to be transformed into consumer goods. By no means essential to our diets, demand for them was driven by factors other than hunger: people bought them in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries because, even though they were cheap, they represented luxury and comfort.

Food has always signified more than simply nutrition, but it’s been implicated in the rise of a consumerist society since the eighteenth century. This means that not only do consumers attach a range of new meanings to the food that we buy – we purchase food not only because we need to eat, but because of how we construct our identities as consumers of goods – but consumer demand drives the production of food. It’s for this reason that efforts to reform eating habits – either to combat lifestyle-related diseases or, indeed, to produce a more sustainable food system – have to deal with the fact that we approach food as consumers operating within a global food system.

Further Reading

Sources cited here:

Joyce Appleby, The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism (New York: WW Norton, [2010] 2011).

Anne EC McCants, ‘Poor consumers as global consumers: The Diffusion of Tea and Coffee Drinking in the Eighteenth Century,’ Economic History Review, vol. 61 (2008), pp. 172-200.

Sidney W. Mintz, Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).

Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Penguin, 1985).

James Walvin, Fruits of Empire: Exotic Produce and British Taste, 1660-1800 (Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1997).

Other sources:

K.T. Achaya, The Food Industries of British India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994).

Judith A. Carney, Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).

E.M. Collingham, Imperial Bodies: The Physical Experience of the Raj, c.1800-1947 (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001).

Alain Huertz de Lemps, ‘Colonial Beverages and the Consumption of Sugar,’ in Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present, eds. Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari, English ed. by Albert Sonnenfeld (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), pp. 383-393.

Kenneth K. Kiple and Virginia Himmelsteib King, Another Dimension to the Black Diaspora: Diet, Disease, and Racism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

James E. McWilliams, A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).

Sidney W. Mintz, ‘Sweet, Salt, and the Language of Love,’ MLN, vol. 106, no. 4, French Issue: Cultural Representations of Food (Sep., 1991), pp. 852-860.

Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants, trans. David Jacobson (New York: Random House, 1992).

Frank Trentmann, ‘Beyond Consumerism: New Historical Perspectives on Consumption,’ Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 39, no. 3 (Jul., 2004), pp. 373-401.

Frank Trentmann, ‘Materiality in the Future of History: Things, Practices, and Politics,’ Journal of British Studies, vol. 48, no. 2 (April 2009), pp. 283-307.

Marijke van der Veen, ‘When Is Food a Luxury?’ World Archaeology, vol. 34, no. 3, Luxury Foods (Feb., 2003), pp. 405-427.

Creative Commons License Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.