Macau – China

On the road with Patrick Stuart

Our resident food and wine writer Patrick Stuart is currently on a whistlestop business trip around Asia taking in six countries in less than three weeks. Patrick’s usual recipe of the week is being replaced by posts on the food and cooking of these exotic lands

Last week I wrote about the great street food of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, and after a quick visit to Manila, a city which sadly does not have much to offer on the food front, I have been in Macau for the past few days.

I’ve been visiting this ex-Portuguese colony regularly for the last two years since Essential magazines launched their Macau edition, and as well as reviewing many of the top gourmet restaurants, I have also managed to get under the skin of the place and discover some of the more traditional eateries.

For such a small place (27 square kilometres in total), Macau offers amazing contrasts in every sense, including the food. There’s the bling-bling of the huge casino resorts, many of them with Michelin-starred restaurants such as Robuchon au Dôme atop the lotus flower shaped skyscraper that is the Grand Lisboa Casino Hotel. They offer fine dining to match the best of nearby Hong Kong, covering everything from Italian, French and Portuguese to Japanese, Korean Thai and pretty much every region of China worthy of picking up a chopstick for.

Then there is the traditional side of Macau. The SAR (Special

Grand Lisboa Casino Hotel
Grand Lisboa Casino Hotel

Administrative Region) has four distinct areas: Old Macau city on the peninsula, Coloane Island, Taipa Island and the Cotai Strip, built on reclaimed land connecting the two islands.  

In the San Maló district of old Macau on the peninsula, the cobblestones and grandiose colonial Portuguese buildings of Senado Square can easily make you forget that you are in Asia altogether. In fact, with all the Chinese shops that have sprouted up around Portugal over recent years, there are parts of Portugal that feel just as oriental these days!  

The first casinos were built here adjoining the old city, along with other more recent ones on reclaimed land like The Wynn and the MGM.

The Cotai Strip is Asia’s official tinsel town; there’s the Venetian (bigger than the Vegas version) with its canals and gondoliers, the enormous Galaxy Resort with the world’s biggest wave pool, and the Four Seasons, Grand Hyatt, Conrad, Sheraton, Holiday Inn and Hard Rock Hotels to name but a few. Catering to over 30 million tourists a year, the gaming revenues of Macau are many multiples those of Las Vegas. In fact, last year, when Chinese New Year fell in January, they took more money in one month than Vegas had taken in the whole of the previous year.

Taipa Village is another more traditional area where the Portuguese influence can still be strongly felt, but hemmed in as it is by residential tower blocks it hardly feels like a village. Macau is after all the most densely populated place on earth.

My favourite part of Macau is Coloane. Most of this tiny island is thankfully a nature reserve, the main reason being that it is mostly too hilly to build on, and save the Westin Resort with its 18-hole golf course, tiny Coloane Village and a rather mucky beach, there is not much to see.

Venetian
Venetian

But Coloane Village is a gem. The photo shows the main square and church with the famous Nga Tim Café/Restaurant on the left. This is a great place for real Macanese food, a fusion of Portuguese and Chinese that was invented long before “fusion cooking” became fashionable.

Tim’s Bacalhau à Brás is an adaptation of the traditional Portuguese version of egg and salted cod, but flavoured here with soy sauce and ginger – delicious.

Portugal’s ASAE inspectors would have a field day! The hygiene standards are poor to say the least (the bathroom is in the kitchen), but the food is always fresh and well cooked, washed down with good Portuguese wine.

Other traditional Macanese dishes to be found at local restaurants include the strangely-named African chicken – bbq chicken in a spicy coconut-based sauce. Considering that Portugal’s chicken piri-piri originated in the African ex-colonies, I would have expected there to be some connection here, but the Macanese version tastes distinctly oriental.

Then of course there is Portuguese food. Most famous of all is Fernando’s in Coloane Village, but others over in Taipa Village also do their bit to keep the 6,000 or so Portuguese residents (and me if I spend more than a week here) from feeling homesick.

And finally, no article about the food of Macau would be complete without mention of Lord Stow’s bakery, also in Coloane Village. It’s a long story, but a lady from Essex and her late husband who used to holiday in Portugal many years ago set up shop here in the 1980s and decided to make Portuguese pastéis de nata (custard tarts). What started as a tiny corner shop is now an international business, with franchise operations not only in Macau casinos but also in Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. You can read the story here www.lordstow.com