Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Eating out in Macau

Michelin-starred Antonio on Taipa island
Think Macau and usually moolah machines of its numerous casinos flit through the mind. That’s really because the island has chosen to market itself that way. It’s time to recognise Macau for its other ‘c’, its cuisine. Centuries of absorbing history — dominated by Portuguese colonisation of this Asian outpost in the South China Sea — has influenced local cooking, turning the island into a scrumptious platter offering global flavours.

If a gastronomic experience is what you look for during your travels, Macau is likely to pamper the palate. Vegetarians too will be able to have quite a fill, though a little scrutiny is required before placing an order, especially when opting for local cuisine, as a bit of the no-no ingredient may mange to sneak into a dish. Most restaurants serve pictorial menu cards making it a tad easier in knowing what to expect. Here are some tried and tested options to choose from during a visit.    

1 Macanese: When the Portuguese arrived here they brought with them a host of ingredients and recipes from their settlements in India, Africa, South America and of course back home. These were fused with the local Chinese style of cooking to create what is now called Macanese cuisine, a sparkling convergence of international flavours. Typically Macanese dishes are seasoned with an assortment of spices, including coconut milk, peppercorn, turmeric, cinnamon, lemon, bay leaves and for sure balichao or shrimp paste that gives this cuisine its distinctive edge. Some signature dishes include: Galinha à Africana (African chicken grilled in peri peri peppers), Pato de cabidela (duck), Galinha à Portuguesa (Portuguese-style baked chicken) besides Arroz de Pato (Baked duck rice), and an assortment of marine fare. The atmospheric Restaurante Litoral in Taipa is a popular halt, whereas near Downtown the snug Restaurante O Porto Interior is an option.

2 Portuguese: Tucked in between the Macanese restaurants are those serving near-original Portuguese fare, though the true-blue Lisboans contest that making noises about it all being localised cuisine and not as robust as expected. Despite mixed reviews there is chance for you to taste some classics as: Bacalhau (salted cod fish, that’s given the tag of Portugal’s national dish and can be prepared in a zillion ways…okay, at least 365 ways is the standard saying), Caldo verde, the delicious kale-potato soup with slivers of chorizo sausage, Ameijoas a Bulhao Pato (sautéed clam), Salada de Polvo (Octopus Salad), Leitão Assado (roast suckling pig) and Pata negra (black ham). It’s said Portuguese fare doesn’t get more authentic this side of the world than at the Michelin-starred Antonio, the inviting little restaurant of celebrated chef António Coelho in Taipa.

From top: Breakfast time at a tea room; almond
cookies being prepared at a confectionery; street
 fare: fish, shrimp and more 
3 Street food and more: Every place has its version of off-the-street quickies. Macau is popular for the pork chop bun, a cousin of the hamburger with an Oriental twist to its taste. The bun is lightly crisp on the outside, deliciously soft inside and the pork chop is generously marinated with black pepper. Uncomplicated, yet addictive it surely is, going by numbers who munch on it delightfully. Carts selling pickled fish/shrimp balls on skewers, besides a variety of meat, are other crowd pullers.

The popular tradition of tea rooms can be observed in Downtown from dawn to midday. During mornings you’ll see groups of customers huddled around round tables reading newspapers and animatedly chatting as they partake of the typical breakfast fare of lo mai fan (glutinous rice porridge) served with greens and topped with a fried egg. Served day-long around Macau are promising-looking dim sums. Some favourites are: siu mai (steamed dumplings stuffed with pork/shrimp), ha gau (steamed dumplings filled with shrimp) tsun guen (stuffed and fried shrimp rolls) and char siu pau (steamed buns stuffed with pork). 

A typical Macau culture is confectionery shops happily offering samples of Chinese style dry meat, almond cookies, egg rolls, sesame and peanut nougats. These are all cut up in bite sized pieces and laid out to tempt customers. Hard-selling ensures you can pick on quite a bit and easily settle your lunch just walking along such streets found at all market places! 

4 Cantonese:  The variety of Chinese food is as varied as Indian. We are usually exposed to a mere handful of dishes basically from China’s costal provinces. Though Macau serves a huge variety, Cantonese is what most visitors opt for, the reason for its easy visibility. Make your experience a little different by visiting Rua das Lorchas or Rua da Alminrante Sergio near the Inner Harbour where fresh catch is served at restaurants. Try Ta Pin Nou, a soup served in a tureen on the table. Most menus include favourites as shark fin soup, Peking duck and tofu. Noodles are called fitas here and come in endless forms.  

South East Asian and Japanese: Located on the Outer Harbour is Macau Fisherman's Wharf. A themed plaza that has a lot of high-end shops, convention halls etc, it’s the place to savour a variety of flavours. Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, Japanese cuisine compete for eyeballs and taste-buds and there’s always a rush here, especially at the waterfront restaurants. For more variety in Thai, make your way to Rua de Abreu Nunes, locally called ‘Thailand Street’ for the ample choice of restaurants here. Book a table at Edo if soba noodles, sashimi, sushi and teppanyaki is what you’re in a mood for.    

Antica Trattoria
6 Italian and French: After trying an excess of Oriental cuisine, for comfort food there’s nothing more scrumptious than a pasta or fondue. A lovely cosy Italian restaurant and bar with a crackling menu, wines included, is Antica Trattoria (Vista Magnifica Court). The thin crust pizzas are scrumptious and so are the breads and desserts. The trattoria atmospheres makes you want to linger a little more at this first-storey eatery. Aux Beaux Arts (MGM Grand Macau) is a Parisian-style brasserie serving classic French cuisine in warm surroundings. Its seafood platter and pumpkin soup is highly recommended.

7 Indian: Following a few days of sampling multi flavours, the taste-buds long for a bite of home. There are more than a couple of restaurants serving Indian cuisine but the smartest of them all, and significantly serving an authentic spread, is the relatively-new Indian Spice (Vista Magnifica Court). From your favourite butter-chicken to panner tikka, saag-meat to fluffy basmati rice and crisp rotis it’s delectable fare and presented with style. It’s centrally located and deliciously-close to the waterfront.

8 Portuguese sweet treats: With the best being reserved for the last, this has to be devoted to the delectable range of desserts and pastries found on the island. Topping the charts is fresh-from-the-oven Pastel de Nata or the classic Portuguese egg tart with creamy custard filling in buttery pastry shells served with a sprinkling of cinnamon and powdered sugar. Blissful! Do believe me when I say, you cannot eat just one. While the more famous outlets are Lord Stow’s Bakery (in Coloane) and Margaret’s Cafe e Nata (Kam Loi building, near Hotel Sintra), it’s available at the many outlets of Koi Kei Bakery (at Senado Square and around town).  Amongst the must-try Portuguese deserts are the awfully-simple but delectable Serradura, flavoursome Stewed Apple, or any of the traditional egg yolk-based puddings: Doce de Ovos, Papos de anjo, Barrigas de freira or Toucinho do ceu. These were also known as convent sweets having originally been created in Portugal by nuns, who would starch their habits with the white of the egg and have huge amounts of yolks leftover!  

Published in JetWings International, Oct 2012

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice, thankyou :)