Charcuterie Board, featuring original, spicy, & garlic biltong, spicy doerewors, sticky toffee bleu cheese, stuffed peppadews, and parmesan crackers. Cape Town Cucumber, a refreshing cocktail of cucumber vodka, mint, lemon, and a house-made Peri Spice rim.
The Rich Flavors of South African Cuisine Your New Favorite Food (That You Haven’t Tried Yet) BY NOAH NOFZ
lose your eyes for a moment and picture South African cuisine. What do you see? For most, the exercise is more difficult than it seems. People think of many things when they think of South Africa—Mandela, rugby, diamonds, penguins—but the food remains shrouded in mystery, victim to more recognizable world cuisines. Peli Peli, a blossoming group of Houston eateries serving the only South African fare available
H O U S TO N H OT E L M A G A Z I N E
in Texas, is out to change that. First opened in 2009, Peli Peli has since conquered the Houston restaurant scene. It was no small feat—Houston, after all, is a new dining capital in America, a swaggering city that prides itself on its culinary chops. To Peli Peli co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Thomas Nguyen, that made it the perfect place to bring his concept to life. “I don’t know if there’s a better place for us to have opened than Houston,” he says. Why Houston? In a word, diversity. “In this city, we’re used to diversity,” Nguyen points out. “You have Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish, you have Indian-Chinese food… It’s such a mix—not just for the sake of mixing, but because that’s what the city is made up of.” According to Nguyen, Houston’s fusion of flavors perfectly mirrors South African cuisine. “South Africa has so many differ-
ent cultures that influence the cuisine, from Indian to British to Dutch, Portuguese, and surrounding African countries,” he explains. “Since it’s made up of so many different cultures and people, there are many flavors that people haven’t had before.” Ultimately, Peli Peli found its way into the hearts of Space City diners through (what else?) their stomachs. The name of the restaurant is a romanization of the Swahili piri piri, and refers to a small, but potent, chili pepper that grows wild on the South African plains. The nod to spice suffuses the entire Peli Peli menu, which is overseen by South African-born Executive Chef Paul Friedman. “This was Paul’s opportunity to finally be the chef he’s always wanted to be,” enthuses Nguyen, and one look at the menu reveals the unmistakable work of an artist in the throes of delight.
Consider his award-winning Bobotie, a distinctive take on the South African national dish. Curried ground beef and carrot bredie are encased in a flaky pastry crust and finished with a jolt of mango chutney. A dizzying array of perfectly-prepared seafood forms the Cape Town Skillet, which makes its home on a bed of South African rice and is topped by a pair of exquisite tiger prawns. Even Friedman’s Charcuterie Board is an exercise in culinary glee, from the spicysweet tang of stuffed peppadews to house-made biltong, a kind of soft, South African beef jerky that rockets South African guests (and, one suspects, the chef) back to their childhoods. It’s not hard to see that this food is prepared from the heart. High local demand reflects that love for the cuisine. With three fine dining locations now open in Houston, plans to open