Eating in Macau is about a state of mind rather than a particular recipe or restaurant. The city’s signature cuisine embraces the finest ingredients, the most painstaking techniques, vast amounts of passion and—most importantly—the time necessary to enjoy all three.
Lunches extend well into the afternoon; dinners could well start very soon after dusk. There’s no such thing as a “hurried breakfast,” and there’s always, always time for a snack.
Macau’s chefs were reading cookery books over one another’s shoulders long before anyone started prattling about “fusion.” And it’s not simply a blend of Portuguese (traders from Lisbon first set up shop here in 1557) and Chinese.
Other influences—from Brazil, Goa, Malacca, Timor and other parts of the world where Portugal’s nautical progeny once roamed—spread themselves throughout Macanese kitchens.
Traditional Portuguese egg puddings add jaggery—popular in Asia, Africa and the Americas—to form ovos com jagra. Cinnamon bark and star anise join rosemary and bay leaf in the gravy accompanying potatoes and slowly braised beef that is vaca estufada. And so on and so—deliciously, delectably—forth.
It’s axiomatic that it’s eminently possible to dine well at pretty much any time of day, in this, the spiritual capital of the Slow Food movement. Casinos may thrum, clubs may pound and malls may glitter—never mind them; it’s time to eat.
Here’s the thing: breakfast ranks at the bottom of Macau’s food lineup. No conclusive anthropological study has been published as yet, but like as not this is due to a long-standing Mediterranean penchant for laissez faire. There’s plenty of time, the day is young, no need to rush things.
So simply saunter to a Portuguese-style cafe, order a coffee and a pastry—croissants here are a little heavier than the French version, but no less toothsome—natter to the staff and other customers, read the papers (not an iPad), puff on a cigarette if so inclined, and ease into the day.
Ou Mun Café: Travessa do S Domingos 12, Macau; +853 2837 2207
Just as economists are supposedly unable to agree on a definition of money, so is it practically impossible to ascertain the genesis of one of Macau’s best-known culinary standbys, African Chicken. The chicken bit’s obvious, but where does Africa come in?
The story runs that one Americo Angelo, head chef of the Pousada de Macau (since closed), conjured it up in the 1940s after a visit to Angola. Antecedents aside, it’s the city’s classic stew, although purists sometimes decry its slightly lumpish looks.
The original recipe is long gone, but that hasn’t stopped just about every Macanese chef from trying his or her hand at the sauce which goes heavy on the garlic, paprika, chili peppers and coconut milk.
As the old adage goes, a meal without wine is breakfast. Vis-a-vis pairing, thoughts turn to Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône or Merlot. And for a pacific noontide venue, Albergue 1601 has few equals.
Albergue 1601: Calcada da Igreja de S Lazaro 8, Macau; +853 2836-1601
Feijoada is a Brazilian pork and kidney bean stew that might as well be called mix-and-match. The Macanese took it to their hearts (and stomachs), sometimes substituting chickpeas or butter beans for kidney beans.
The original—perhaps?—recipe calls for half a kilo of mixed pork, including ears and trotters, but both the Portuguese sausage linguiça and Cantonese air-dried lap cheong can serve instead, as can the blood sausage morcela.
Feijoada includes large chunks of cabbage which together with the beans absorb the pork’s flavor. Such a traditional meal suggests formal surroundings; A Lorcha, helmed for the past three decades by the charismatic Adriano das Neves, makes for a sensible first choice.
A Lorcha: Av Almirante Sergio 289 AA, Macau; +853 2831 3195
If it’s a bit of a contradiction that Fat Siu Lau bears a Chinese name yet serves Portuguese and Macanese dishes, that’s only slightly complicated by its most popular dish being Chinese-style pigeon.
The restaurant has been going in one guise or another for more than a century and the pigeon’s marinade is—cliche alert—a closely guarded family secret that’s almost as old. Often served at weddings and Lunar New Year, the dish’s crispy skin, tender meat and enticing fragrance make it an excellent late-night nosh.
Fat Siu Lau: 64 R da Felicidade, Macau; +853 2857 3580
Just One More Won’t Hurt …
A healthy European regard for puddings and all things dessert-ified lingers on in Macau long after the Portuguese hauled down the flag in 1999.
Sawdust pudding, despite the name, slips down, its combination of cream and crumbled biscuit readily digestible morning, afternoon or evening. Green tea adds a Chinese flavor and the chocolate variety is reminiscent of Brazil. There’s an ice cream version, too.
Gelatina Mok Yi Kei: 9A R do Cunha, Taipa; +853 6669 5194