01 March 2014

The Taste of Macau

Macau is a place where people take food very seriously, and similarly to other Asian cuisine they consider cuisine as being an art form. Macau cuisine is has as a main feature the balance between flavors and textures. The characteristic of this cuisine is the fortunate blending of sweet and sour, sharp and blends, hot and cool and sometimes even crunchy and smooth. Macau is a place where many cultures came together; thus it’s only normal that its cuisine mirrors all of these cultures.

Being a coast country, one of the most popular foods in Macau has always been seafood. There is a whole culture around seafood, and some dishes can only be found here. Fish is one of the main food ingredients; being usually served steamed and garnished with vegetables and rice. The Macau cuisine is quite spicy and savored, combining a lot of exotic ingredients. The Macau cuisine has developed in the Chinese style, but it has its own unique flavors.

Macau cuisine is a branch of the Chinese umbrella cuisine. The Macau people are very specific about the freshness of every ingredient they use especially because their cuisine uses a lot of raw ingredients be they meat, seafood, vegetables or fruit. Because Macau is a place where many cultures met, the cuisine is quite colorful combining a lot of spices in a unique manner. Like all the Chinese cuisine varieties Macau too is based on four main styles, such as the Chiu Chow, the Shanghainese, the Peck and the Szechuan. All these cuisine are bringing something special to the Macau specific cuisine. For example, the Shanghainese cuisine is adding its rich and sweet flavors, while the Peck cuisine gives the Macau dishes that well known and appreciated style.

Macau is also known as the “Monte Carlo of the Orient” because gaming has always been a major part of the country’s culture. Macau is one of the best places where you can try the famous Chinese traditional foods and the famous festivals. There are a lot of festivals here, such as the Jazz fest, the youth festival, the Art festival and many other. All these festival give the Macau people the occasion to “show off” with their traditional dishes as there are many international tourists visiting. There is a very interesting combination of ancient and modern during these festivals. Many of these festivals celebrate the changing of seasons, the gods or even legends.

Many Macau food specialties have developed because of Macau people’s strong passion for eating over the centuries. There are many chefs who creatively use the basic ingredients and cooking method for traditional Macau dishes and create original and delicious food variations. Macau chefs are passionate about their traditional dishes and they enjoy presenting them to foreigners who has never tasted them before. Whether they are cooking dishes that go back in time for centuries or brand new, modern dishes, Macau chefs take pride in what they do, and this is readily noticeable in the unforgettable taste of their cooking.

A European flavor to Chinese Macau

- A city's history and culture can usually be tasted in its food. So the unique heritage of Macau was always going to provide some interesting treats for Andrew Ruther as he took a culinary journey round the city

My first introduction to Macanese cuisine was in the form of natas – a small egg-custard flaky pastry tart that was originally created by 18th century Catholic monks at the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem, Lisbon. The legendary Portuguese influence seen and tasted throughout the city is hinted at in Macau's appetite for these pastry treats.

I began my sojourn into the incredibly varied and wonderful food of this ex-Portuguese colony at its southern reaches on Coloane Island at the fantastic Lord Stow's Bakery. Quite rightly, it is famous for its wonderfully sweet and creamy natas.

But Portuguese influence is writ-large into much of the rest of the city's food.

It's here in Macau that flavours of the once mighty Portuguese empire that reached Africa, India and the Far East have intermingled to create the unique Macanese cuisine.

The best place to start any introduction to Macau's culinary delights is the same as the best way to start any day - with a good hearty breakfast. So the next morning I made like the Cantonese-speaking Chinese locals and went for noodles, dim sum and sweet pork buns from one the collection of tiny eateries that throng the streets off of Rua de Calderia.

But it was Nam Heng Taiwan Noodle Shop on Rua das Lorchas that really grabbed my heart. Here bowls of tasty homemade beef noodle soup were complemented with plates of fantastic, steamed siu long bao, a scrumptious pork meat and soup-filled dumpling that is served with fresh, shredded ginger. The owners, giggling and friendly didn't speak a word of English – they didn't need to – their food did the talking.

And there's no doubt the Chinese food on offer in Macau is first class. With breakfast far behind me I made for the excellent Cantonese cuisine at the superb Tou Tou Koi restaurant just off of the main Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro. The array of dim sum available was mouthwatering with the shrimp roll and minced beef and shallot filled rice noodle rolls unforgettable. Along with Tou Tou Koi's great food came an unending supply of jasmine tea. The dim sum and tea combining to create that quintessential Cantonese dining experience, yum cha (or Yin Cha, the literal translation: drinking tea).

Evening began at Henri's Galley restaurant, beside the Sai Van Lake on leafy Avenida da Republica, where I sunk my teeth into their wonderful African Chicken. An entire bird is slow-roasted in a thick, tasty amalgam of paprika, chilli, coconut, peanuts and garlic, then cut into portions and served with potatoes.

The next day brought more Macanese specialties at the Litoral restaurant on Rua de Almirante Sergio. Their Baked Duck Rice and Bacalhau (dried, salted codfish, a famous Portuguese dish) proved exceptional.

With a huge lunch behind me, I was getting the urge for some freshly brewed coffee. Once again, Macau came up trumps with the Tan Heong San chain of Honolulu cafes (there are nine scattered around the city) providing an incredible choice of fine coffees from 20 countries around the planet. A tall glass of creamy 'galo', a kind of Portuguese cappuccino, sends me on my way.

With evening closing in, the thought of heading back to Rua de Calderia where numerous street noodle stalls open at night, did cross my mind. But then in Macau I was always going to be spoilt for choice. Throughout the city is a mouthwatering spread of yummy international cuisine that covers a range of countries such as Italy, France, USA, Brazil, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Even on tiny Taipa island, just to the south of Macau's main city centre you'll find an epicurean feast of Portuguese, Macanese, Indian, Chinese and African cuisines all for sale on Rua do Cunha – better known locally as Food Street – an narrow, atmospheric alleyway located in the heart of old Taipa village.

Yet my destination was the windswept Hac Sa beach on the furthest reach of Coloane island, and the very popular almost 'pure' Portuguese food at Fernando's. Luckily I arrived on a weekday evening – venture here during the weekend you could find yourself waiting in line to order: Fernando's don't accept reservations.

And, finally, despite all the great earthy rich textures, flavours, aromas and tastes that make Macau the dining spectacular it is, the city still has plenty of highly refined international cuisine left to gorge on.

There's a gourmand's feast of epic and delicious proportions available at any one of the six Macau restaurants that recently won Michelin stars. This array of fine-dining restaurants includes arguably the best French restaurant in the whole of Asia, the stunning Robuchon a Galera at the Hotel Lisboa.

Awarded three Michelin stars, French chef Joel Robuchon's menu is a stunningly presented seasonal array of dishes such as pan-seared Wagyu beef with cepes (mushrooms) and capers, souffled potato and baby spinach leaves; or lobster cocotte with black truffle and asparagus. Delicious.


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