This story first appeared in Vacations & Travel magazine, winter 2019, issue 111
In Macao, innovative dishes meet a local cuisine of international influence to form one of the most diverse gastronomy scenes in the world.
Chimes of porcelain tea cups echo as I wander up the staircase of an unassuming yet charming yellow building. As one of just three remaining traditional tea houses in Macao, the Long Wa Tea House is peaceful and airy, a total contrast to the sensory overload that exists within the ingredient-rich Red Market next door.
Handwritten menus prep diners for one of the most sought-out culinary pastimes, a traditional Cantonese dim sum experience. With a portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong overlooking our table, it’s not long before steamed har gao and char siu bao arrive in bamboo baskets and a pot brewing with leafy Iron Buddha tea is poured.
In a country with a steady reputation for glitz and gambling, it takes just a few hours (or baskets of dim sum) in Macao to realise this is a land of contrasts and delicious surprises. As our bill is calculated by wooden abacus, the owner hands me a postcard depicting the old harbour, a gentle reminder that this country may have its modern marvels, but old world charm isn’t going anywhere.
One neighbourhood embodying a feeling of being frozen in time is Coloane. This quiet fishing community is home to the boldly painted Chapel of St. Francis Xavier, but perhaps better known as the location renowned for a very popular dessert. Pastry lovers flock here to sample the crusted yet gooey goodness of the Macao Egg Tart. Now an edible icon, the egg tart originates from the Portuguese pasteis de nata and while it’s found on most café menus throughout Macao, for a fresh-out-of-the-oven taste explosion, venture to Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane, home of the original creation.
Offering a change of pace to the downtown district, Coloane also boasts what’s reputed as the best Portuguese restaurant in Macao with Restaurante Espaco Lisboa serving up hearty dishes such as Açorda de marisco, Presunto pata negra and a Macanese favourite, African chicken. A visit here is like stepping into the chef’s home – this two-storey restaurant has creaking floor boards and walls decorated with artwork depicting agricultural scenes. A personalised approach to wine pairing is offered upon ordering, usually from the owner himself.
Covering a coastal area of just 30 square kilometres, distinctive features between Macao’s neighbourhoods and islands are both beautifully apparent and easily accessible. For a view into the past, the UNESCO Historic Centre of Macao is a must-visit to explore the nation’s European influence, evident in the rainbow-like facades of Senado Square; the historic Ruins of St Paul’s; and quiet alleys leading towards the lush retreat of Camoes Garden. Throughout the grounds of Macao’s largest garden, sword dancing and tai chi takes place most mornings and you’ll also find a bronze statue signifying the friendship between China and Portugal.
Across the Governador Nobre de Carvalho Bridge, history begins to blend with a new skyline rising from the newly reclaimed land of Cotai, once the sea of Seac Pai Bay between Taipa and Coloane islands. Extravagant casino complexes have expanded the luxury hotel, entertainment and dining scene of Macao, bringing with them some innovative cuisine and saporous menus.
Inside the MGM Cotai resort, chef Mitsuharu Tsumura has created a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian flavours at Aji Restaurant. As the only restaurant in Macao serving Nikkei cuisine, here you can savour the culinary dream team of refined Japanese techniques and flavourful textures of Peruvian ingredients. Taste duck fois gras; a Peruvian Nikkei Nigiri torched with eel sauce; or Gindara Misoyaki, a dish of black cod with saiyko miso, amazonic nut, native potato cream and porcini mushroom powder. Dishes are a work of art, balancing perfectly with drinks created at Aji’s pisco and saké bar.
Recently added to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in the field of Gastronomy, there’s no shortage of talent in the kitchens of this tiny but tasty part of the world. This year sees 19 restaurants adorned with Michelin stars. Of these, Jade Dragon at the City of Dreams in Cotai dazzles with three stars. Chef Tam Kwok Fung has created a menu where the flavours of Chinese cuisine are delicately entwined with contemporary methods. Carved jade chopstick holders, ornate cutlery and lavish décor are only the start of an experience that sees little dumpling parcels of perfection arriving before double-boiled tonic soups, lychee-wood barbequed meat and perhaps the best bowl of fried rice you’ll ever eat.
Beside the modern buildings of Cotai, Taipa Village is where cultural heritage blossoms in a neighbourhood clinging to the past. An example of the true Macanese melting pot, a wander down Rua do Cunha provides a taste-testing extravaganza and visible influences from Portuguese and Chinese cultures. Grab some almond biscuits or jerky as snacks before exploring Pak Tai Temple, the colonial houses of Avenida da Praia and Carmel Garden. To round off a trip through Macao’s gastronomic offerings, it’s the rooftop of Goa Nights that beckons, where mixologist Chetan Gangan has devised a menu inspired by numerous global destinations. The ‘Old Taipa Village’ cocktail with whiskey sous vide, caramelised banana elder flower liqueur and cinnamon syrup is the perfect accompaniment to toast the setting sun and begin conjuring a plan for just how many egg tarts I can squeeze into my suitcase.
Images: Lisa Michele Burns
Long Wa Teahouse – No.3 Rua Norte do Mercado Almirante Lacerda
Lord Stow’s Bakery – lordstow.com
Aji MGM Cotai – mgm.mo/en/cotai/dining/aji
Jade Dragon – cityofdreamsmacau.com/en/dine/chinese/jade-dragon
Goa Nights – goanights.com
Macao Tourism – visitmacao.com.au