Strolling through Macau’s historic Red Market, the smell of ginger and chili peppers has tears streaming from my eyes. I’m blurry eyed and puzzled by unfamiliar sights like freshly slaughtered wild boar. But even so, browsing through the aromatic piles of produce and herbs is a great introduction to the peninsula’s distinctive culinary culture, which blends Chinese and Portuguese traditions. Macau may be famous for its casinos but it’s the cuisine that hits the jackpot. Macanese cuisine has a distinct flavour of its own. Here are five tasty ways to sample Macau food.
1-Join a Macanese cooking class
There’s nothing like cultural immersion to reveal the spirit of a destination and the inventive culinary workshop at Pousada de Coloane does just that.
Armed with a shopping list for classic Portuguese dishes that are part of Macau’s food heritage, I shop and haggled at the Red Market while absorbing the particulars of Macanese traditions.
I learn the importance of balancing spicy and sweet flavours, and how to pick fresh coconut and turmeric for vibrant flavor.
Portuguese music seeps through the elegant black and white tiles that cover the pousada, as I whip up Portuguese coconut chicken. Paired with wine, caldo verde or kale and potato soup and views of Cheoc Van beach, it’s the perfect introduction to the Portuguese side of Macau.
2-Savour the flavours of Fat Tea
The tradition of Cha Gordo or fat tea is an unexpected Macanese take on the concept of English High Tea. Cha Gordo is high tea with a twist of Chinese and Portuguese sensibilities.
The idea took hold in the early 20th century, when there weren’t many restaurants or cafes in Macau.
Macanese housewives would prepare a mid-afternoon spread of snacks and desserts to celebrate saints days, christenings or just a neighbourhood gathering.
Chef Miguel Joao de Souza creates a weekly Cha Gordo based on childhood memories at the Sheraton Macao.
The feast includes at least 12 sweet and savoury dishes with nods to Chinese, Portuguese and Angolan influences.
I sample serradura, a cookies and cream pudding, lacassa noodle soup, bacalau codfish and potato fritters and minchi diced and deep fried meats and potatoes with three kinds of soy sauce.
Washed down with a pot of tea, it’s a perfect example of Macanese fusion cuisine.
3-Munch a Portuguese egg tart
Macau has the best of both worlds, street food as well as formal dining. Macau’s egg tarts have become famous around the word and are right at the top of the Macanese food chain.
In Macau, you’ll find egg tarts everywhere as most bakeries and many restaurants serve up this treat. But there’s nowhere as famous as Lord Stow’s Bakery, a tiny shop that is worth the trip to snatch up the warm, buttery pastries. It’s a must-do in Macau.
In 1989, after a visit to Portugal, Andrew Stow created a Macanese version of Pasteis de Nata or custard tarts. Stow was an Englishman nicknamed “Lord Stow” by local Portuguese for jokingly “lording” his British heritage over them. The joke was on the Portuguese as Stow’s egg tarts have become Macau’s most well-known treat.
I visit Lord Stow’s original bakery in Coloane and munch warm, caramelized brown on top and slightly sweet tarts straight from the oven.
4-Cook your own hot pot meal
The Chinese influence in Macau’s cuisine is evident through China’s 1,000-year-old hot pot tradition introduced to Macau by Mongolian warriors. The Mongolians used their helmets to simmer soup over hot embers. Hot pots evolved into a popular social activity all over China.
At Sheraton Macao’s Xin Restaurant, groups of families and friends gather around tables eating from the hot pots.
Chinese hot pots are sometimes called Chinese fondue. The dish involves selecting meat, fish, vegetables and condiments and cooking them yourself in a metal pot.
A hot pot meal is a leisurely, communal experience where everyone at the table shares sampling the dishes. The broth is the foundation of the meal. Xin’s menu comes with a range of meat and seafood broths.
Each region in China is famous for a different broth. I particularly love the famous Sichuan hot pot and its chili peppers and peppercorns.
The spicy flavours compliment the vegetables and chicken I plop into the soup. It’s also an honour to participate in a long-honoured Chinese cultural tradition.
5-Nibble almond cookies
Next to egg tarts, almond cookies top the list as Macau’s most ubiquitous edible souvenir. You’ll spot boxes of them everywhere, from street stands to high end department stores, with the Koi Kei brand the most popular.
So what’s so special about them? I’m not sure what the fuss is about until I bite into a dense, crumbly cookie. These aren’t the bland desserts featured on Chinese takeout menus.
Macau almond cookies are baked with mung bean flour and feature whole pieces of almonds. The taste is nutty and only slightly sweet but it’s the unusual flavours that really make them stand out. Choose almond cookies with shredded pork, black sesame or lard for a true taste of Macau.
While in Macao book a table at Robuchon au Dome for a fine French treat.
Macao is famous for its egg tarts. Check out the Pasteis de nata receita (egg tart recipe!).
Lord Stow experimented with the Portuguese custard tarts and created an icon.
Macao is famous for Macanese food. Find out where to eat.
For somewhere to eat Macanese cuisine, read our story first.