Like many languages around the world, Portuguese has a proverb advising against putting new wine in old bottles – yet that’s exactly what’s happening in Taipa, the historic fishing village that’s reinventing itself for the 21st century. And the renewal of Taipa Village is proving to be a roaring success.
Temporarily overshadowed by the vast casino developments in neighbouring Cotai in recent years, Taipa is now back in the ring and punching well above its weight, backing up its storied past and graceful architecture with new arts expos and dining venues that trumpet a spectacular renaissance.
Taipa Village Macau
Old Taipa Village occupies the oldest and best-preserved part of the former island of Taipa. With its traditional shophouses and quaint cobbled streets, it’s the polar opposite of the marching band of whistles and bells that is Macao’s casino land.
Blessed with a melange of Portuguese and Chinese architecture, and with distinctive Mediterranean touches, Taipa Village is a culturally diverse destination that allows visitors to get a taste of the original, authentic Macau.
“Macao is a charming city which unfolds a unique blend of the east and west, but the jewel in its crown is Taipa Village,” said Pamela Chan, Senior Marketing Manager of Taipa Village Destination Limited.
“Visitors can spend time in their resorts, then saunter through the tranquil alleyways of Taipa Village and soak up the authentic essence of this culturally-rich destination.”
Taipa Village Attractions
Wherever visitors wander in Taipa Village, there’s a huge amount to experience and enjoy.
Smack in the centre, Art Space was set up to promote the cultural and creative industries in Macao, providing a forum for local and international artists to showcase their work in a traditional shophouse.
The exhibition by Macao’s home-grown star Tong Chong proved a winner, with seven sculptures crafted from plywood.
“As the first sculpture show at Taipa Village Art Space, this exhibition marks another step in the transformation of the Village into a lively centre for artistic and cultural endeavours,” said Joao O[SIC], President of the Taipa Village Cultural Association.
“The diversity of artworks on show demonstrates the continuing evolution of the association as it fosters new talent in the cultural and creative industries.”
Taipa Houses Museum
Perhaps one of the most picturesque sights in the village is the Taipa Houses Museum, a sedate row of five distinctive peppermint greenhouses, which were formerly private residences.
A quintet of time capsules, low-rise and distinctively Portuguese, their lakeside location and gentle aura makes them a popular site for wedding photography shoots, and it’s a rare day when there’s not a bride and groom being put through their posing paces by an insistent cameraman.
Against the village’s cultural backdrop, a fair few artisanal shops are doing a brisk trade, be it jewellery at Dora Tam Design, or the teak and mahogany furniture at City Square.
Taipa Village food
However, Taipa Village’s forte is food, and it’s difficult to take more than a few steps without passing some sort of eatery. And new restaurants and cafes have been opening on a regular basis in recent months, catering to all of Macao’s diverse culinary tastes.
In the heart of Taipa Village, King’s Lobster Restaurant opened its doors last January  and has had barely an empty table since.
Its variation on a theme – adding succulent lobster to a bun rather than the traditional slice of pork – had customers clamouring for more, and its other dishes, such as Boston lobster and juicy beef burgers have proved incredibly popular.
And – given Macao’s fondness for good wine, it’s no surprise that there’s an excellent selection from both Old and New World, with Portugal being especially well represented.
Very much a fusion restaurant, Portugues Pescador allows visitors to enjoy a true taste of both Portuguese and Macanese cuisine.
The ground floor sets the scene with an authentic local tea house ambience – check mobile tea stall, traditional chequered tiles, and slowly turning four-bladed fans – where customers can enjoy traditional local snacks such as buns with spicy fish or curry sirloin, and classic beverages like clay pot brewed milk tea.
Upstairs it’s a tad more Mediterranean, with iconic blue and white tiles the signature décor and favourite dishes such chicken and pork knuckle on the menu.
More Taipa Village Food
Digreen is short for “Diamond in Green”, and is a typical tale of Macanese entrepreneurialism.
Having looked around and decided what Taipa Village needed was somewhere selling cool, healthy snacks, four passionate young locals decided they should go into business together.
After finding their feet in wholesale, they branched into retail, picking Taipa Village as the right spot to sell their low-sugar treats made from fresh and natural ingredients.
Digreen’s popsicles’ and cones’ flavours range from mango, durian and coconut to popcorn and black glutinous rice, and they also serve coffee, frappes, and other beverages to round out the menu.
From food to art to shopping, Taipa Village has staked its claim as Macao’s newest, oldest, and hippest hood.
Taipa time warp
On a recent trip, I hailed a taxi, and about 20 minutes and as many patacas later, uncoiled myself at what might be Taipa’s Ground Zero.
Call it by its Portuguese name (Cunha or “wedge”), its Chinese appellation (Guan Ye Jie – Government Official Street), or its nickname “Food Street”, there’s no denying that this is the heart and soul plus alimentary canal of old Taipa village.
Straight as an arrow, 120 yards long and never more than four wide, Food Street runs between the Largos de Bombeiros and the 19th-century covered market known as Carmo Fair.
On either side, a score and more eateries and snack shops – their home-brewed aromas pirouetting across the taste buds and their touts crying the irresistible deliciousness of their wares – boast ever yet more unique culinary specialities of the gourmet Mecca that’s pronounced “Macau”.
Food Street’s infectiously tasty ambience is nowhere better displayed than at Gelatina Mok Yi Kei, a gallimaufry of puddings, jellies, ice creams and fruit salads that could equally be called “Just Desserts”.
“Fun to work here? I should say so!” yelped Liang Yin Ji, one of the numerous closely-knit band who’ve been merrily jellying here for several score years.
“Everyone’s got a bit of sweet tooth, so very few people can resist trying something when they come past.
Durian ice cream and chocolate pudding are the favourites, and loads of people love our fresh mango juice too. Can’t say I blame them!”
Wander away from Food Street’s brouhaha, and you’ll find yourself in the oldest part of Taipa, which could well be pronounced Time Warp.
Some houses are shuttered and bolted, others wide open to passers-by providing a brief tableau of family life.
Astonishingly, there’s a Michelin-star restaurant, run by the larger-than-lunch Chef Antonio Coelho. But whenever I’m in this neck of the woods, I always pop into the barber shop whose sole proprietor is usually to be found asleep in the chair, although he soon gets busy with clippers and comb once he’s yawned and stretched for a few minutes.
Ed Peters is a freelance writer who lives in Hong Kong.
5 more things to do in Taipa
Before land reclamation and Cotai casinos adding to the entertainment mix, 500 years of Portuguese, Chinese and Macanese culture blended within the narrow streets and alleyways of Taipa village.
Now the 7 sq km island is joined to the Macau Peninsula by three bridges and bounded on its landward side by reclaimed land that forms the Cotai casino strip that irrevocably locks it another former island, Coloane.
1- Eat Taipa Duck Rice
From tiny little cafes hidden away in the narrow backstreets selling grilled steak to trendy new tapas bars, Taipa food is a glorious cross-cultural mix.
Traditional restaurants like A Petisqueira (15C-D Rua de S. Joao, Vila de Taipa) set the tone with great Portuguese staples like grilled bacalhau (salted cod) and octopus salad.
Every traditional restaurant in Taipa has its own version of Duck Rice – think of paella meets African fried chicken with chorizo thrown in. It’s so popular that I’ve seen a whole table get up and leave when told it was sold out.
Make sure to leave plenty of room for dessert – they’re fabulous. Try various versions of Sawdust Pudding or Serradura.
This oddly named temptation is pure comfort food – a mixture of vanilla bean infused whipped cream and condensed milk topped with a layer of fine biscuit crumbs – that looks exactly like sawdust.
The best Serradura’s have a fine layer of crumbs set between the cream layers as well. It’s a fine balance, too much crumb and the whole quality of the Serradura changes – too little and sweetness is cloying.
Don’t forget to try Portuguese beer or wine over a long lunch or dinner. Over ordered? Be shameless and ask for a container to carry off any leftovers, the locals are used to Hong Kongers heading for the ferry laden with Macanese goodies.
2- Hiking in Taipa
Taipa Village where most of the restaurants, cafes and historic sights are located is relatively flat, but the area does have a few hills, which means there are a few options for hiking to scenic lookouts.
Particularly scenic is the route overlooking the three bridges – the Ponte de Sai Van (2.2km long), the Ponte Governador Nobre de Carvalho (2.6km) and the Ponte da Amizade (4.7km long) spanning the sea between Macau and Taipa.
The Taipa Pequenta trail leads to a great view of an enormous sculpture by Portuguese sculptress Dorita Castel-Branco.
The highest point in Taipa is only 160 metres so it’s more of a stroll than an all out hike. Trails are well signposted and of course, since you’re walking – they’re free.
3- Enjoy the gardens at Taipa Houses Museum
When you’ve finished wandering the narrow streets and alleyways of Taipa village, step back in time at the delightfully pastel coloured Taipa Houses-Musuem, a collection of five early 20th-century Macanese – Portuguese inspired architectural buildings, in pale green and white.
The houses overlook the Pria de Nossa Sra. da Esperanca lake bordering the Dra Launna Mesparteiro garden.
Each house displays an aspect of Macau life during this era – from furniture and costumes to historic documents and exhibitions.
Before heading there, check if you’re likely to see free floral exhibitions in the grounds in front of the Taipa Houses.
The annual orchid exhibition is a riot of colourful orchid varieties and even if you have no idea about flowers, the size, colour and strange way of displaying these blooms is fascinating and a great photo opportunity.
4- Stay in Taipa and attend a concert
International acts like Katy Perry frequently bypass Hong Kong and perform at venues like The Venetian, Cotai. Huge themed casinos also attract huge crowds and if you’re not into gambling, mass consumption and aimless strolling can be well, overwhelming, so stay in Taipa and commute the short distance to the Cotai strip.
From the Taipa Houses Museum, it’s an easy walk to the casino strip. If the weather’s hot and steamy don’t even attempt this.
Catch a bus or grab a taxi to save your feet – you’ll probably need them to last for the duration of any concert anyway.
5- Explore Taipa’s Flower City Garden
On a hot sunny day – there’s nothing quite like sitting in the airy coolness of a Chinese pavilion watching golden koi gather in shoals.
While Macau has one of the most beautiful Chinese gardens, the Lou Lim Leoc Garden, Taipa’s Garden of Flower City is a modern take on traditional Chinese landscape, updated to include a kids playground and skate area.
Little known Pou Tai Un Buddhist Monastery is definitely off the beaten track and a bit tricky to find, being tucked away on Estrada Lou Lim Loek, so you’ll probably be the only tourist wandering in its grounds.
The monastery includes a beautiful prayer hall.
The gardens surrounding the temple are filled with lovingly groomed bonsais, from minute trees to complete forests.
Don’t forget to say hello to the monastery’s turtles too.
Ingrid Piper is a Hong Kong-based freelance journalist.
Where is Taipa village?
Taipa Village is located on Taipa Island near Macao’s International Airport. Macao is a Special Administrative Region of China that consists of a peninsula and two islands. Taipa Island is linked to the Macao peninsula by a bridge.
Taipa Ferry Terminal
The new Macau Taipa ferry terminal began operating in June 2017. Located on Estrada de Pac On, the Taipa ferry terminal is a massive facility for ferries and cruise ships. The Taipa ferry terminal is close to resort hotels in Cotai and provides connections by ferry to Hong Kong, Shenzen Airport and Shekou in Guangdong province.
Hotels in Taipa
Taipa is not far from the Cotai strip luxury resorts but a Taipa hotel, like the Taipa Square Hotel or Regency Art Hotel, is less flashy and easier on the budget.