8360 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, San Diego
“Want to try a real Mozambique stew?” says this guy with his dreads gathered in a crocheted rastacap.
Mozambique? Oh yeah. Africa. Coast. Southeast.
‘Capital’s Maputo, right?”
“Right!” He says. “Nobody knows our capital.”
Even I don’t know how that floated to the top of my brain.
Mozambican comfort combo - spicy piri-piri chicken stew, rice, black-eyed peas, kale.
“And thank you for not calling it ‘Lourenço Marques.’ That was the colonial name the Portuguese gave it. We were a colony of the Portuguese for 500 years.”
This is late afternoon, PB farmers market. On the street of pop-up tents. Everything from giant cucumbers to dairy-free ice cream to Kombucha On Tap. All this time I’ve been looking at four chafing dishes steaming away with different stews, behind wood-framed glass panels. They’re right under a sign that says “Sabor Piri-Piri Kitchen, Mozambique Inspired Comfort Food.” Next to the stews, they have a chalkboard menu. “Sabor Bowls,” it says. “All items served over rice.” It features chicken peanut curry ($11), and Spicy Piri Piri Chicken Stew, marinated in garlic and spicy Piri Piri hot sauce (also $11). “Piri-piri just means ‘spicy spicy,’” says the guy, Candido. “So, ‘spicy Piri-Piri hot sauce’ just means ‘spicy, spicy-spicy, spicy sauce.’ Just in case people don’t get that it’s, uh, spicy.”
Whatever, Candido says piri-piri is a very Mozambique thing. He even makes it and bottles it here. (He sells it for $7.)
PB market: Healthy all the way.
“Piri-piri is like Chile Pequin,” he says. “Pequin peppers come from the state of Tabasco in Mexico. People in Mozambique also love things hot. Almost as much as they love their false bananas.”
Uh, false bananas?
He doesn’t have any here, but it seems they’re cousins of our standard bananas. Trouble is their fruit are so full of seeds you can’t eat them, so you eat other parts, like the “pseudo trunk,” which is soft and tasty, and the root.
So lemme think: Mozambique. Just north of South Africa, right? Candido says it’s a coastal country full of fruit, berries and root plants, plus endless beaches, and specially, tons of seafood. “Some say it has the best shrimp and prawns in the world.”
Sabor Piri-Piri pop-up. At Little Italy, PB, North Park, each week.
Only fly in this ointment is the horrors of the wars that followed the struggle for independence from Portugal.
“My family had to leave,” says Candido. “I was one year old. We went to Malawi.”
He was able to make the jump to San Diego because his stepdad is American. But Candido brought his Mozambican cooking with him. “We were like every Mozambican family. Lots of kids, lots of food to cook every day. There, everyone’s in the kitchen. My grandmother made me her assistant. We were always doing stews.”
That’s what these two dishes are. Also on the menu: two vegan bowls. Broccoli sweet potato with peanut curry ($10), and black-eyed peas and kale in coconut curry ($9).
“We can do a combo for $13,” says Kuzonsi. Today’s her first day working here for Candido. She was a social worker till the pandemic.
Me, I’m staring at the stews. “Which are the two most Mozambican?” I ask.
The heart of Mozambican food: fiery Piri-Piri sauce, Candido’s own version.
“Piri-piri chicken, and the black-eyed peas and kale stew,” says Candido. Seems most of the food in Mozambique that isn’t Portuguese is vegan or chicken. With this combo, I get both.
“But the most Mozambican thing is xima,” says Kuzonsi. “It’s from maize. Sometimes called fufu in West Africa. You mash it like potato till it becomes tight, solid, and you roll it into hard balls. Then you just dip into sauces. Delicious snack!”
But no xima here, so I go for that combo of piri-piri chicken stew and the peas and kale. Only problem? Can’t eat them here in the market. “Probably best just to go to the beach,” says Kuzonsi. She has this incredible topknot of hair woven tight above her head. “And while you’re there, check out Candido on YouTube. He’s a great reggae musician!”
I also get one of their strawberry-lemon drinks ($4), and head off towards PB’s beach. Bars are starting to open, and on the beachfront near the cottages on the pier, everyone’s on their daily walkabout, running, rolling, letting their dogs tow them on their skateboards.
I find a bench.
Whew. Take my mask off, draw long and strong from the strawberry-lemon. Open the box. Reddish pile of piri-piri chicken stew and greeny-creamy black-eyed peas and kale, separated by a white river of rice down the middle.
I pour the little pot of red piri-piri sauce over it all. Take a chance on the heat. And have at it. Wow. Hoo hoo! Yes, a little picante. Good news is it lets the flavors through. Black-eyed peas are fine, with a nice coconut curry sauce, paprika, bit of coriander, and of course piri-piri. But you can’t beat the spicy chicken dish. Candido said it has the piri-piri, plus tomatoes, paprika, red and green peppers, coriander, and garlic, natch. Oh, and yellow curry. Kuzonsi a lot of Indian immigrants live in Mozambique. They must influence Mozambicans’ cooking.
Down the cliff, beach is at its sunset best. Surfers paddling into nice long rides. Bet the view over the Mozambican coast ain’t much different. My buddy Pete did a worldwide surfing year once, and he said Mozambique had some of the most magnificent surfing beaches.
I decide to check out Candido’s YouTube music tracks while I chew. Candido calls himself “Candreado.” I hear a track called “I Would’ve Loved You.” He’s the featured singer with San Diego rapper Trevy James. They’re good. I chew a chunk of chicken, and imagine what it’d be like if I had my own reggae band, my own crocheted rastacap, and — why not? — a handful of those xima balls.
- The Place: Sabor Piri-Piri Kitchen, 8360 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, 619-694-0704; at Tuesday Pacific Beach Farmers’ Market, Bayard and Garnet (also at Farmers’ Markets in Little Italy, and North Park)
- PB Farmers Market Hours: 3-7pm, Tuesdays;
- Prices (including rice): Chicken Peanut Curry, $11; spicy Piri Piri chicken stew, $11; broccoli sweet potato with peanut curry, $10; black-eyed peas, kale, coconut curry, $9; combo of two $13; menu varies daily
- Buses: 9, 27, 30
- Nearest Bus Stops: Garnet and Bayard (9, 30); Garnet and Felspar (27)