Macau embraces vegetarian trend with new restaurants

A small community of health-conscious restaurateurs in Macau are encouraging local diners to embrace the vegetarian trend

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2016, 12:25pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2016, 12:25pm

Less than two years ago, the king of haute cuisine, Alain Ducasse, announced he was eliminating red meat from his flagship restaurant at the Plaza Athénée Hotel in Paris in a bold move to focus more on vegetarian dishes. One newspaper headline screamed, “Is this the end of haute cuisine”? Others merely saw it as an acknowledgment that vegetables have long been overlooked. 

Meanwhile, top French chef Joël Robuchon, who oversees the three-Michelin-star restaurant Robuchon au Dôme in Macau, declared in an interview with The Telegraph:  “The cuisine of the next 10 years will be vegetarian.”

The mainland is on top of this emerging culinary trend, with chef Tony Lu’s Fu He Hui in Shanghai considered to be one of the most renowned vegetarian restaurants in the world. The restaurant is praised for its mastery in serving delicious meat-free Shanghainese food. 

All this suggests that vegetarian dishes, once so frequently criticised by food critics for being bland and boring, could have more to offer after all. 

"A lot of people who make assumptions about vegetarians think that you go into a place and you’re served salad every time,” says Marisa Randles, who with her husband Aaron owns The Blissful Carrot, a vegetarian restaurant in Macau. “But I think our eatery proves that it’s good food, period, and it’s not necessarily items that you might think are vegetarian, like bibimbaps, curries, tacos. There’s so much variety on our menu.” 

Originally from the US, the couple came to Macau so Aaron could perform as a diver in The House of Dancing Water. They had the idea to open The Blissful Carrot on Taipa island after struggling to find places that served purely vegetarian dishes. 

“There were some Chinese vegetarian restaurants,” Marisa says, “but sometimes with those you still don’t really know what is going into the food, or if they’re using MSG or thickeners or animal products in the sauces. So that’s why we wanted to open a place whereby people can trust that the ingredients are as organic as possible.”

Since opening The Blissful Carrot two years ago, the pair has been pioneering more environmentally and health-conscious methods of sourcing and consuming food in Macau. They import most of their vegetables from a farm in Thailand so that they can ensure produce is as fresh and organic as they like it. 

“It’s really nice because everything comes in super fresh, it’s direct from the farm and there’s no middlemen in between,” Marisa says. “We find out at the beginning of every week what is ready to harvest, and then our order usually leaves the farm in Thailand and arrives here on Thursday.”

It’s all part of their long-term goal to raise awareness of the “farm-to-table” concept in Macau and introduce whole, plant-based foods into local eating habits. “There are an increasing number of local people who are adamant about eating organic food, and we have a lot of local Chinese people that have been vegetarian for a long time and are really happy that we opened,” Marisa says. “They bring all their friends, and it’s really encouraging to see.”  

However, despite such efforts, when you think of Macau’s dining scene, organic vegetarian food is not the first thing that comes to mind. Abundant buffets in luxury hotels offer seafood and meats galore that cater to mainland Chinese eating habits.

In fact, meat-eating is on the rise in the mainland as its residents become more affluent. This is likely due to meat being seen as a status symbol in China, so if you are rich, you’ll consume more of it. 

However, there are signs of change appearing in Macau. Katya Maia, who opened Greens Kitchen and Juicery just over a year ago, is noticing a different trend. 

“There is a new wave of Western-educated Chinese here in Macau who think differently. They already follow American, Australian and British trends - where being healthy and making healthy choices on a daily basis is considered to be a more upscale lifestyle - and so there is definitely more of this happening,” says Maia, whose eatery specialises in take-away whole foods, snacks and cold-pressed juices.

“We see it especially because we’re not a cheap [food and beverage] outlet, as our prices are rather high. It’s not because we want to make a lot of money, it’s just because it directly reflects the cost of the business, the rent and the cost of the products that we use.”

Maia originally came to Macau from her native Moscow as an exchange student studying at Macau University. She says it was hard to find healthy dining options in the city. “There were a lot of local street food options, usually noodles or deep-fried stuff, which isn’t healthy. So that was challenging. Back then, I just used to buy my fresh produce at the supermarket and eat very simple.”

Now that Maia has opened Greens Kitchen and Juicery, she is keen to share her lifestyle and diet  choices with people in Macau. 

“We’re promoting a whole foods diet,” she says. “[It involves] choosing products that are as close to their natural state as possible. We want to encourage people to know what ingredients they’re eating and where they’re coming from - no packaged food with ingredients that you can’t read or understand. We’re about non-processed foods – no white sugars, no white flours, no refined sugars. We use foods that are, as much as possible, in their natural whole state.”

On the menu are a variety of signature juice cleansers that combine an array of superfoods to provide a burst of nutrition and vitamins.  “We have a superfood cleanse set – every juice in the set has added superfoods in it, and so it’s very highly nutritious and full of vitamins,” Maia says. “People love it – they love drinking juices and knowing that they’re getting all these nutritional benefits from it.”

Maia also gets to showcase local flavours, since many of these superfoods originate from China. “I especially love goji berries because they’re local, and it’s especially exciting to be able to incorporate something from China. We use buckwheat too, which is a very high source of protein and gluten-free – it’s widely grown and cultivated in China.”

However, it’s not easy to win over locals and mainland visitors when it comes to vegetarian food. 

“ I try to show the Chinese customers that veggie food can be very tasty as well,” says Candy Ip, founder of Veggie Macau, a cafe offering salads, pastas, pizzas, burgers, curries and soups in various plant-based incarnations that refers to itself as a “veggetaria”. 

Ip adds: “I would like to introduce my café to local people to at least [give them] an idea of what it’s like to eat vegetarian or vegan food - even if they just try being vegetarian for one day.”

She feels that it’s quite a struggle to run a vegetarian restaurant in Macau. “Eating vegetarian food is not that common among locals, and so when people discover us they will often turn away,” she says. 

“We’ve been here nearly two years already, and so far I can only see familiar faces every day. It seems to be very hard to attract new faces. I’m a little worried, but I think there is a growing movement here, and so I will just keep on going.”

But Ip is not alone in her mission to put Macau on the vegetarian map. 

“I definitely see an improvement on the Macau health scene,” Maia says. “There are more little vegetarian and vegan places popping up. I’ve seen a few small local Chinese vegetarian places that have opened recently, and I think it’s really encouraging that local people are being supported as well, and that it’s not just all about the big outlets in casinos.” 

And this new culinary movement in the city is not just about serving good food – it’s also encouraging a positive lifestyle. Maia says: “When you eat healthier you can work better, you have more energy, you can be more dedicated with your friends and family – be more present – and when you feel good about yourself this is when you start sharing happiness with other people and it’s like a domino effect. It’s contagious.”

Vegetarian Delights

Macau’s top meat-free eateries that promise tasty, healthy food:

Blissful Carrot
Offers a delicious mix of vegetarian and vegan rice bowls, sandwiches, salads, wraps, pasta and desserts, along with cold-pressed juices and superfood smoothies. 
(853) 6298 8433
79 R Direita Carlos Eugenio

Greens Kitchen and Juicery
Get tasty take-away bites from the whole foods kitchen in addition to its signature line of cold-pressed juices and juice cleanses. 
(853) 6288 0870
No 1A, Calcada de Santo Agostinho

Veggie Macau
This “veggetaria” cafe serves a variety of plant-based salads, pastas, pizzas, burgers, curries and soups . 
(853) 2836 6891
Rua do Tap Siac No 1-3, The Serenity R/C G