BBC 2024-02-04 07:05:20


US and UK launch strikes on Iran-backed Houthi targets in Yemen

There have been no attacks yet reported in the Red Sea by the Houthis since this latest round of Western air strikes in Yemen.

On Saturday, before the strikes took place, the militants released photos showing their military training exercises.

Some of the images showed weapons destroying mock targets bearing the flags of the UK, US and Israel.

They fled as lava spilled into town – and they may never return

The resilient community of Grindavik has for the past weeks and months experienced the relentless forces of nature, once again proving why Iceland is often called the “Land of Fire and Ice.”

Three homes in this town on the Reykjanes peninsula in southwest Iceland were destroyed this month when molten lava spewed through two fissures created by the Svartsengi volcanic system.

Once a thriving fishing village with vibrant sports teams and a youthful population, Grindavik now lies empty. Its people have fled and are beginning to face up to the realisation they may never be able live there again.

So uncertain is their future, one woman said she wished her home had been swallowed up by lava.

Over the past three years, the peninsula – approximately the size of the West Midlands in the UK – has witnessed five volcanic eruptions.

On 10 November, faced with an alarming number of earthquakes and suspicions of magma beneath the town, Iceland’s authorities ordered the evacuation of Grindavik, home to approximately 3,800 residents.

Over the following days it became clear that several homes had been completely ruined by seismic activity. Residents hoped to return home as the frequency of the earthquakes diminished – but in mid-December, a strong eruption began in the nearby Sundhnuks crater series, lasting three days.

I witnessed the eruption myself then three hours after it had begun I drove home.

Along the road from the capital, Reykjavik, to Keflavik airport which leads to my town, Reykjanesbaer, I caught sight of fissure almost 4km in length, spewing molten lava. It felt as though I was watching the gates of hell opening.

Grindavik was spared for the time being -the eruption took place about 3km (1.85 miles) away – but additional fissures were subsequently discovered in the town, prompting authorities to close them and begin repairing damaged infrastructure.

Tragedy struck on 10 January when a man working in the town fell through one of the crevasses. After a brief search, the operation was halted due to the dangers involved.

Four days later, another eruption began perilously close to Grindavik.

From the Icelandic civil protection’s central command centre in Reykjanesbaer, I witnessed the live feed of the eruption from the Sundhnuks crater series.

In the weeks leading up to the January eruption, the government had decided to erect protective walls in an attempt to prevent lava flowing towards Grindavik and the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant.

For the first few hours the protective walls proved helpful, though the fissure had to some extent opened through one of the walls.

That meant some lava flowed toward the town, but the walls kept most of it at bay.

Around noon on 14 January, I was watching with other reporters next to the protective walls in Grindavik, when I and others caught sight of smoke appearing from behind the walls, from the town itself.

The sheer size of the protective walls prevented us from seeing what was causing the smoke.

However, an eerie feeling struck me that this might be another fissure opening behind the walls, leaving the town completely unprotected.

In the next few minutes, those fears of mine were realised.

A fissure had opened less than 100m away from houses in Grindavik, and every first responder I spoke to on the scene came to the conclusion that now there was really nothing that could be done to save the houses.

We were witnessing the most extensive natural disasters Iceland had seen for 51 years.

Glued to their TVs, Icelanders watched as lava engulfed the first houses – a surreal and heart-breaking spectacle. Though the eruption was short-lived, three houses were lost.

Now into February the people of Grindavik find themselves scattered across the country, unable to live in their hometown.

Pall Valur Björnsson has had to leave his Grindavik home for Reykjavik and feels the government has not sufficiently managed to help ease the uncertainty that the town’s population feel about their future.

Pall Valur Björnsson
It is clear the responders were in no way prepared for an event like this

“So far, all [their] actions have been characterised by haste and bewilderment, and information given to the residents of Grindavik has confused people rather than solving problems,” he complained.

“All the administration surrounding the efforts has been completely unacceptable, and it is clear the responders were in no way prepared for an event like this, which is absolutely incredible considering that these earthquakes and eruptions started three years ago.”

Their lives have been upended since 10 November. They have not been given a return date by authorities, and it’s not clear if the town will ever be safe to live in. Even if residents are allowed back, some may be too traumatised to return.

They also face the financial burden of mortgages on houses they cannot live in.

Icelanders and their government are united in offering help. The town’s residents are receiving housing benefit and parliamentary bill will aim to alleviate their problems.

When Bryndis Gunnlaugsdottir told a meeting of Grindavik residents in January that she wished the lava had destroyed her house too, she was greeted with thunderous applause..

Such a level of despair is hard to imagine, but when I asked her about it, it somehow made sense.

Bryndis Gunnlaugsdottir
I said I wanted my house under lava because then there would be an end to the uncertainty

“It’s been 80 days since the evacuation took place. In those 80 days, the people of Grindavik have not had a home,” she explained. “Our community is hurting, and we have no idea what the future holds for us.”

Detailing the evacuation and closure of Grindavik and the death of a man in the town, she said there had been too many tragedies.

“I said I wanted my house under lava because then there would be an end to the uncertainty. I’d be compensated and could build a new life and focus on the emotional pain that follows losing a community, at least for some time.

“I feel many residents of Grindavik agree uncertainty is the worst enemy now.”

Grindavik’s fate is unknown, although its community holds on to the hope of going back.

There is no way of telling when or where the next eruption will begin on the Reykjanes peninsula. But Icelandic scientists mostly agree that it is not a matter of if but when.

How Imran Khan plans to win an election from jail

From prime minister to prison in less than two years, Imran Khan and his party have fallen dramatically from political grace.

But the PTI says it has not given up its belief that it can win this week’s general election in Pakistan, despite its founder being jailed in cases he says are politically motivated, and barred from running for office.

The party is aiming to overcome the authorities’ crackdown with the help of a social media fightback – and new candidates, many of them untested.

Rehena Dar is being swept along the back roads of Sialkot, past the posters of her face plastered on the narrow street corners of this city in Punjab province. Her way is cleared by the sound of beating drums as rose petals shower her from above.

If becoming a politician unexpectedly in her 70s has taken her by surprise, she doesn’t show it for a second. The fears which have driven many of her fellow candidates underground or out of politics seem to have been shrugged off.

“It is very good that the proud sons and daughters, brothers and mothers of my city Sialkot are standing with me,” she shouts with the confidence of someone who has worked the electorate for years.

“I am with Imran Khan and I will stay with Imran Khan. If I am left alone in public, I will still carry Imran Khan’s flag and take to the streets.”

A quick glance around certainly indicates that is true. The small crowd that has gathered around Mrs Dar hold Imran Khan’s image aloft, while flags for his PTI flutter overhead.

And yet, Mrs Dar is not a PTI candidate. Instead, she – like all their candidates – is technically an independent, following the electoral commission’s decision to strip the PTI of its cricket bat symbol.

It may seem a small decision, but in a country with an illiteracy rate of 58%, having a recognisable symbol the candidates use on the ballot paper is crucial. Now each candidate has their own alternative symbol; Mrs Dar’s is a baby’s cot, others have items ranging from a kettle to a saxophone.

The decision is just one of the myriad barriers that the PTI says have been placed in its way as it gears up for the election on 8 February.

But it has continued to fight. Whether it be candidates pounding the streets like Mrs Dar, or technology that transports a leader from a jail cell to the head of a rally, it’s proving it’s willing to throw everything it has into this battle.

During the last election it was Mrs Dar’s son, Usman, leading the group through Sialkot. He was a senior PTI leader and served as a special adviser on youth affairs under former PM Imran Khan.

But in early October, after disappearing for three weeks according to his family, he appeared on television to say that Imran Khan had been the “mastermind of the 9 May riots”.

Nationwide protests, some of which became violent, erupted on that day last year after Imran Khan was arrested. Hundreds of Khan’s supporters were arrested, accused of being involved in attacking military buildings, including the residence of the most senior military official in Lahore.

Khan was released, but the crackdown on his party continued.

In the weeks and months after the protests, politicians in his party announced their resignation from the PTI or from politics altogether. They included many of his senior leadership, which the authorities argued were an indication that Khan’s old supporters didn’t want to be associated with a party that bore the responsibility of the unrest.

The PTI said the resignations were forced.

Whichever is true, Mrs Dar was unimpressed.

“When Usman Dar gave his statement, I did not agree to it,” says Mrs Dar. “I told him that it would have been better if my son had returned dead. You have made a false statement.”

Mrs Dar’s overt style of campaigning, however, is not a possibility for all the PTI’s candidates.

Some candidates have kept campaigning despite being in prison; provided they have not been convicted of a crime, they are free to stand for election from behind bars.

Others have avoided the police altogether and are running their campaigns from hiding.

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Atif Khan was a provincial minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the north of Pakistan. Now, as part of his campaign, he appears on video broadcasts on three-metre screens his team drives around his patch, parking up in town squares to address PTI supporters.

This is the only way he can take his message to voters, he says, because he has been in hiding since May. The authorities say he is a wanted man. He believes he wouldn’t get a fair trial.

“It’s a totally different experience, not amongst the crowds, not on stage, not amongst people, but we are trying to manage it,” Mr Khan told the BBC.

“The biggest support base of PTI is the young voter. They are using digital media, mobile phones, that’s why we thought we should be more engaged with them through it. That is the only thing we can do, we can campaign through digital media.”

Technology has been crucial for the PTI’s campaign.

The party’s official X, Instagram and TikTok pages each have several million followers, more than the other two main parties – the PPP and PML-N – combined. Imran Khan is the only leader of the three parties to have a personal account on each of those three platforms too, which means their message is going direct into people’s hands.

There have also been efforts to use tech to try to help voters know which candidate is PTI-backed. Without the uniting image of the cricket bat, the PTI have developed a website where voters can put in their constituency and discover their PTI-backed candidate’s symbol.

Another issue arose when it came to arranging rallies. In Pakistan, politics is tied to personality. Imran Khan – the beloved cricketer-turned-politician – was arguably one of the biggest, able to draw thousands to his rallies.

But he now sits in jail, where he has been since August and looks likely to be for the next 14 years following two three sentences handed down this week.

The party also says it has faced issues organising rallies. In late January, police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of hundreds of PTI supporters in Karachi. The authorities said that they did not have the right permissions to gather.

The PTI have said that this is just the latest example of how they have been stopped from campaigning. Every candidate’s campaign team the BBC spoke to talked about their supporters being intimidated. The PTI have alleged that there has been a campaign of harassment, abduction, imprisonment and violence against them to stop them from running.

“We find these allegation baseless and absurd,” caretaker minister of information Murtaza Solangi told the BBC. “Yes people have been arrested, but those arrests were made because some related to 9 May incidents and some involved other criminal cases.

“However they [the PTI] are free to express their dissent and allegation even if they are baseless. The media carries them. At the same time they have other legal options available, including the highest courts of the land.”

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The solution to these problems? Virtual rallies.

“It’s cheap, it’s safe and it’s fast,” Jibran Ilyas, head of PTI social media, told the BBC by phone from his base in Chicago. “It’s a little less impact maybe from the physical rallies, but we were trying to get our message out.

“We’ve never had a political rally without Imran before,” Mr Ilyas said. Would one without him work? They weren’t so sure.

The problem is, he says, “people are longing for Imran Khan’s message”.

So how to get the message out?

In December, they used AI to generate a speech for an online rally.

There are limitations. According to internet monitoring group Netblocks there was nation scale disruption across different platforms in Pakistan on several occasions that coincided with some of these PTI rallies.

“Only about 30% of Pakistan’s population are active social media users. So that suggests that as good as the PTI is at getting the word out on social media there will be inherent limits to their reach with their online campaigning,” says Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Centre think tank in Washington.

This has, of course, been seen before – notably, during the last election when Nawaz Sharif was behind bars.

“If this all sounds the same, that’s because it is; it’s just that the players have changed,” says Mr Kugelman.

He, like most political analysts, sees the hand of Pakistan’s powerful military behind this change in fortunes – the same military that many see as being Imran Khan’s initial ticket to power.

“The PTI had electoral support in 2018, but they clearly benefitted from electoral engineering influenced if not undertaken directly by the military

“There were extensive levels of repression and manipulation. There were arrests of members of the PML-N party, there were prison sentences that were announced close to the election, including Nawaz Sharif getting a 10 year jail sentence.”

That said, Mr Kugelman thinks this is different to recent times.

“I would argue that the playbook is the same, but this time around the intensity is greater. The numbers of leaders and supporters that have been arrested and jailed is higher than recent elections.

“This time family members have been caught up in this. That’s not unprecedented but it stands out in what we have seen in more recent elections.”

The PTI have tried to use each blow to Imran Khan or to its campaign as fuel, but will that work?

Pakistan’s TV channels are full of election rally coverage of Khan’s rivals Nawaz Sharif on stage for the PML-N, or Bilawal Bhutto for the PPP. The main coverage the PTI has received in the week running up to the election is about their founder’s prison sentences.

Mr Kugelman argues that many voters could feel like there’s no point in voting as they feel there is no way the PTI could win.

“The question for the PTI leadership is how to inspire a large support base to come out and vote despite everything that’s happening to Khan. There are some in the PTI who think if they do get out there and voter turnout is high enough they could pull off a miracle and win.”

The scuzzy New York club that gave birth to punk

Fifty years ago, a Manhattan dive bar on a dilapidated street began to become the home of a new musical scene – making the careers of Patti Smith, Blondie, the Ramones and many more.
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Now renowned as one of the most vibrant cultural epicentres on the planet, in the early 1970s New York was a very different city. Gig venues for alternative music were sparse rather than plentiful. While Max’s Kansas City was a go-to hangout spot for the bourgeoning glam rock scene – with the likes of David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Andy Warhol and Lou Reed all frequent attendees – they booked established acts with record deals, leaving aspiring young musicians with restricted avenues.

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The Mercer Arts Center was a vital breeding ground for bands such as the New York Dolls to flourish but in 1973 it collapsed, leaving even fewer options for a new generation of bands. “There were no rock venues at the time,” Lenny Kaye, the long-time guitarist for Patti Smith tells BBC Culture. “With Patti we were mostly playing folk clubs or strange venues, like in a restaurant. There were no places for a band to go and make a stand.” But a new one was about to provide them with just that: CBGB.

Patti Smith and her band “figured out” their iconic debut album Horses while playing two sets every night at CBGB (Credit: Getty Images)

Located in the Bowery neighbourhood in Lower Manhattan, New York, the area was more synonymous with the homeless community and crime than it was a thriving mecca for groundbreaking music and a burgeoning counterculture movement. “Even though CBGB was in the heartland of Manhattan, it seemed like another universe,” says Kaye. “It was essentially a skid row. There was nobody on the street except for the dispossessed, so it seemed like a perfect place for something to happen. And it did.”

Soon after it opened, in December 1973, members of the proto-punk art-rock outfit Television came across the venue and made enquiries about playing there. The owner, Hilly Kristal, a burly bearded man who had been promoting music since the 1960s, had only one stipulation for any bands that wanted to play his new venue: original music only – no covers. And so 50 years ago, in the spring of 1974, Television began playing there regularly. Others soon followed, quickly cementing its reputation as the home of a new rock scene – one that, unbeknown to the small circle of friends frequenting the place, would soon change the future of alternative music.

What the venue was like

Inside it was more grubby dive bar than glitzy music venue. There was a small stage – a bigger one was later built where the pool table was – and dog faeces could often be found on the floor from Kristal’s dog Jonathon who was known to roam free around the club. “It was very scuzzy, but it made sense right off the bat,” says filmmaker Amos Poe, who had begun shooting all the bands playing there and would release a film featuring them, Blank Generation, in 1976. “It wasn’t like a venue that you had seen before.”

The Ramones would play a 20-minute set, five minutes of which would be them arguing, storming off, coming back, and starting again – Lenny Kaye

The club was located below a cheap single-room occupancy hostel favoured by the homeless, and it wasn’t uncommon to have to dodge bottles dropping from the windows above when people would loiter outside to chat in between bands and get some air. It was far from a hip destination to begin with. “It was mostly filled with what I call professional drinkers,” the photographer Roberta Bayley, who worked the door at the club and photographed the bands who played there in the early years, tells BBC Culture. “I went to see the first Television show, and it was very sparsely attended. It was mostly friends and other aspiring band members.”

Although word about the new venue quickly spread around a small number of bands who were looking for somewhere to play, it remained a self-contained world for a period. “CBGB was a secret for about two years,” Blondie drummer Clem Burke tells BBC Culture. “Initially, it was more like a sit-down cabaret atmosphere ­­– it was very bohemian. There were no [logo] t-shirts, no punks, no pogoing. That all came much later. It was just people sitting at tables with candles lit nodding their heads to Television.”

Television (pictured here at CBGB with Paul Simon) were the first notable band to play at the club (Credit: Getty Images)

While the club would later become synonymous with punk, its musical roots were much broader. The venue had originally set out to play country, blues and bluegrass (hence the name CBGB) but by welcoming a ragtag bunch of experimental kids who promised to bring buddies who would spend money at the bar, it soon became something else. “All the bands were different from each other,” says Kaye. “Television’s Tom Verlaine once said that each band was like an individual idea. It would be later lumped under punk but it was more of a sensibility, it wasn’t a musical style. It became a remarkable incubator for a lot of creative ideas, and I think one of the main reasons why that happened was that it was left alone for a long time to find itself.”

Its musical range

What grew was a scene around a number of bands who were connected by proxy, via sensibility and camaraderie more than genre. Blondie became the house pop band, Television began to hone an immaculate and inimitable style of guitar music, The Patti Smith Group merged poetry with flavours of 1960s garage rock, and Talking Heads made strange, angular, art-rock. Meanwhile Mink Deville claimed to be a rhythm and blues band at heart, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers picked up where the New York Dolls left off, and the Ramones became the blueprint for modern punk music that went on to define the club.

It became a place for unsigned bands to find their own groove, whereas more traditional venues would already expect bands to have achieved a level of success to play there. “CBs was the first place to be available for people really low on the list,” says Bayley. “Not only did they not have record contracts but they had no following and, in a lot of cases, had no great musical ability. It was like getting a rehearsal hall where you could rehearse in front of people and develop as a band.”

Kaye also flags the venue’s hugely important function as a place for some of what turned out to be the most pioneering bands of the era to experiment. “All of [them] came there figuring themselves out,” he says. “The Ramones would play a 20-minute set, five minutes of which would be them arguing, storming off, coming back, and starting again. Everybody was trying to understand who they could be.”

There were just so many great artists proliferating in one place that it couldn’t help but explode into something huge – Amos Poe

The opportunity to perform week after week, sometimes night after night, resulted in some of the most classic and era-defining alternative rock records of the decade being shaped and sculpted on that stage. “We played for six straight weeks with Television, Thursday through Sunday,” remembers Kaye. “Before that we were playing once a month, opening for a folk act somewhere in Greenwich Village, but having six weeks to play two sets a night with one of our sibling bands really helped us figure out where our improvisations were going. It was the kind of environment where you could flight test what you were about and take chances and see how it evolved. By the time we finished, we had figured out how we would make our debut album Horses.”

The Ramones’ performances at CBGB helped cement its reputation as the birthplace of punk (Credit: Getty Images)

The social side of the club was also significant: it became a meeting ground for numerous likeminded people to exchange ideas, hatch plans and begin creative endeavours. “Suddenly you’re part of a crowd,” remembers Poe. “You’re an alien up until that moment, and suddenly you’re in something, and I think that was part of it as well. Like, ‘oh, okay, I’m accepted here. I’m not some strange weird guy because there were writers, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, painters, sculptors, playwrights and poets there too. There were just so many great artists proliferating in one place that it couldn’t help but explode into something huge.”

Life after its golden era

By the end of the decade a healthy number of those key early bands were playing huge theatres and well on their way to an enduring career. By which point the club had changed as it entered an era more defined by hardcore punk. “When the word punk moved from a small p to a capital P, the vibe changed,” recalls Kaye.

Hardcore punk was harder, faster, more aggressive and arguably much more macho than the style of music that had preceded it, and so that brought with it an energy shift. “Then punk became a certain definition of what a band needed to be on that stage,” says Kaye. “I like it when the genres and the borders blur. When nobody really knows what is happening and so they don’t fit. And when you don’t fit, that’s when you come up with something unique. The CBGB golden era was about that.”

After its hardcore punk spell, the club fell back into a more genre-fluid policy, welcoming a variety of up-and-coming new bands, although never managing to repeat its mid-1970s peak before it closed in 2006 for good. Kaye performed one last final concert there with Patti Smith in October of that year. “It was a very emotional experience to look out at the audience and see so many ghosts from a stage that I’d spent many a time on,” he recalls. “I felt very moved.”

CBGB owner Hilly Kristal pictured at the club in 2005, the year before it closed; he died in 2007 (Credit: Getty Images)

Many people connected to CBGB have died over the years, including Kristal and several band members, but for those still with us who spent time in its grimy, dimly lit, graffiti-strewn presence, the potency of the memories have not faded even half a century on. “It was like a rock’n’roll high school,” says Burke. “When you see people from back in the day, there’s a shared history right away, there’s a connection that endures. If we were not at CBGB, Blondie would not have had the success that we had – that was the stepping stone. That whole nucleus of the first wave of bands created an energy that propelled us into international awareness. Without that whole contingent of bands, you wouldn’t have had the success of the few. All the bands propped one another up.”

Kaye hopes that its spirit is one that lives on. “I’m sure somewhere there is a CBGB of the 21st Century taking root,” he says. “With a whole new generation of musicians, artists and writers. I really believe that the club helped move our culture forward, and that’s really all one can ask of any performance venue.”

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A West African ode to a fiery chicken dish

In his cookbook, Simply West African, chef Pierre Thiam shares his Senegalese recipe for crisp, chilli-packed piri-piri chicken.
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Beyond its rough translation of “good hospitality”, the West African philosophy of teraanga (sometimes spelled “teranga”) means giving without expecting anything material in return, rooted in the deep cultural belief in the reciprocity of blessings. In Senegal it is a way of life, a commitment to offering the best of what one has to guests, treating them with unparalleled kindness.

“There’s a word in Wolof, the syrupy mother tongue of my native Senegal in West Africa, that perfectly describes the spirit of our food culture. That word is teraanga,” reflects Senegalese author, chef and restauranteur Pierre Thiam in the introduction to his cookbook, Simply West African, published in 2023. This guide to West African cuisine celebrates Senegalese culture, as well as the culinary treasures that span the African diaspora, from Thiam’s vegan entry into the Jollof rice wars, to his iconic piri-piri chicken – a West African ode to a spicy and tangy southern African dish.

[jump to recipe]

“[Teraanga is] about the lifestyle, but food is a good medium to express it,” explained Thiam, who extends this profound hospitality to the culinary realm through his New York City restaurant, aptly named Teranga.

In Senegalese culture, all guests, especially unexpected ones, are invited to share a meal. According to the chef, it is customary to graciously accept an offered meal, or at least a bite. This symbolises an exchange of blessings with your hosts.

“I grew up in Dakar where, at noon, everything would stop. Even school [would stop], and everyone had to go home. This was because lunch was the most expected, most important meal. Even dishes that seem so elaborate, like thieboudienne [the national dish of Senegal, made with rice and fish] were served at lunchtime. And because of that teranga concept, everyone would invite you [over]. So, I would find myself having lunch at home or having lunch at the neighbour’s house, [they] were making mafé [a creamy peanut stew] or an amazing seafood gumbo. It was always okay with them, and okay with my mom too,” explained Thiam.

Leaning into teraanga, Simply West African is a celebration of harmony, and Thiam uses the book to emphasise the connection of flavours from around the world. He explains that the word gumbo from the southern United States, for instance, is derived from the Angolan Bantu word for okra, ki ngombo. And some dishes, like the Mexican tamal (tamale) and Gambian abala (a black-eyed pea tamale) are very closely related. He also highlights the shared ethos of teraanga and Japan’s similar concept of generosity known as omotenashi.

Pierre Thiam’s recent cookbook is called Simply West African (Credit: Evan Sung)

The classic piri-piri chicken is itself an amalgamation of influences, with roots tracing back to Angola and Mozambique, where the original dish was made with fresh prawns grilled on a wood-burning flame. Now the dish is typically made with spatchcocked (butterflied) chicken, which is grilled or roasted to a perfect crispness. The heart of this dish, however, lies in the fiery piri-piri sauce, a flavourful blend of herbs and citrus, combined with the fruity, spicy chillies from which the sauce gets its name.

“Peri-peri” and “piri-piri” are both derived from varying pronunciations of the Swahili word “pili-pili”, meaning “pepper-pepper” and referring to the African birds-eye chilli from which the sauce pulls its signature spice. These chillies made their way to Africa by way of 15th-Century Portuguese colonialism, and thrived where the climate and soil proved conducive to their cultivation. In countries like Mozambique and Angola, the chillies became an integral part of local cuisines.

“The inspiration is definitely South African, but we have also adopted it. That’s the thing about food, [it] transcend borders, but it also adapts to the environment as it comes. So, it becomes a West African piri-piri,” said Thiam.

Staying true to West African tradition, Thiam shared his most profound advice for perfecting an at-home piri-piri: using fresh ingredients. “It’s not about the chef, it’s really about the ingredients,” said Thiam. “If you have fresh ingredients, it makes the biggest difference. Ninety percent of the food is already done!”

Fiery piri-piri sauce is a blend of herbs, citrus and fruity, spicy chillies (Credit: Evan Sung)

Roasted Piri-piri chicken recipe

By Pierre Thiam

Serves 4

Step 1
To make the sauce, in a large frying pan, heat 2 tbsp of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper, habanero, onion, garlic, bay leaf and paprika and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the vegetables are softened (about 10 minutes).

Step 2
Allow the pepper mixture to cool, then add it to a blender or food processor, along with the coriander, basil, vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Process until the mixture has reached a smooth, sauce-like consistency. (You may leave the sauce slightly chunky if you prefer).

Step 3
Drizzle the remaining ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp oil on top of the sauce and stir to incorporate.

Step 4
To make the chicken, in a medium bowl, combine ½ cup of the piri-piri sauce with the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

Step 5
Pour half of the piri-piri mixture into a baking dish large enough to hold the flattened chicken. Place the chicken in the baking dish, skin-side up, open wide with wings tipped under the breasts. Pour the remaining piri-piri mixture over the top. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.

Step 6
Remove the chicken from the marinade and arrange, skin-side up, on a large sheet pan or in a cast-iron skillet. Discard the remaining marinade. Place the chicken in the oven and roast until the skin is browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 75C/165F, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Step 7
Remove the chicken from the oven, cover lightly with aluminium foil and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes, then transfer it to a serving platter. Pour the pan drippings into a heatproof bowl and stir in the remaining 2 tbsp of piri-piri sauce. Brush over the chicken just before serving.

Tips
To spatchcock or butterfly a whole chicken, set the chicken breast-side down on a work surface. Using sharp kitchen shears, cut along either side of the backbone, then remove it. Flip the chicken over and open it up, pressing firmly on the breastbone to flatten the bird.

Extra piri-piri sauce can be refrigerated in a resealable jar with a tight-fitting lid for up to 1 week, and served as a hot sauce to spice up any meal. 

(Recipe reprinted from Simply West African: Easy, Joyful Recipes for Every Kitchen: A Cookbook by Pierre Thiam with Lisa Katayama, Clarkson Potter, 2023)

BBC.com’s World’s Table “smashes the kitchen ceiling” by changing the way the world thinks about food, through the past, present and future. 

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