Three of Macau's best Thai restaurants
In a city packed with Thai restaurants, a handful of chefs stand out with traditional dishes, imported ingredients and home-style cooking
While not quite as ubiquitous as the casinos, there is no shortage of options when it comes to Thai restaurants in Macau. The problem is narrowing the choices down to just one.
A variation on traditional types of cuisine is common when the food is not local to the area. So a Thai establishment here might really be offering Macau-style Thai food that has been modified to better suit local tastes.
However, with Macau’s growing reputation as a world-class culinary destination, you can be sure to find something truly authentic too.
One restaurant that prides itself on offering authentic Thai cuisine is NAAM. A recent winner of the Thai Select Certificate - an award given as a seal of approval to providers of authentic Thai cuisine in Hong Kong and Macau - the eatery is located amid the Grand Lapa hotel’s swimming pool and tropical gardens.
The executive chef, Pairoj Kaoropwongchai, says: “I select the best ingredients, and most of the ingredients I import from Thailand. I make sure that NAAM continues to offer authentic Thai cuisine.”
Importing ingredients from Thailand is only one part of creating an authentic dining experience.
According to Pairoj, the key to enjoying Thai food lies in knowing how to balance the four key tastes - sour, salty, sweet and spicy.
“Some of our dishes are sour, some spicy, some a bit more sweet. So when Thai people eat curry for the spicy flavour, we eat vegetables to offset the spiciness and then eat some salad to feel reappetised”.
Pairoj is committed to ensuring that guests enjoy the full flavour of the dishes at NAAM. “I often explain to guests how to properly combine the dishes to achieve the best taste. It’s all about the combination of flavours.
If Thai people ate our food the way others do [by selecting mainly spicy dishes], we would also feel it would be too spicy. But we balance our dishes and serve them with steamed rice to avoid an abundance of just one flavour.”
Tasting Pairoj’s food, with its carefully balanced combination of flavours, and seeing the attention to detail in the presentation, with an ordinary mango carved into a work of art, reveals superior skills that have been honed in kitchens over many years. But despite having worked under numerous master chefs, Pairoj’s culinary hero is still his mother.
“Many of my mum’s methods she passed down to me. Now she is 83, but she still cooks every day. She cares so much when she cooks. The secret ingredient in my mum’s food is love, and the secret seasoning is care.”
Such passion for cooking also runs in the family for chef Siriluck Lekkwan at mezza9 Macau.
She was taught to cook by her mother and grandmother, and she includes many Thai home-style dishes on the menu of the restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Macau. “All the dishes on the menu I cook the way I learned growing up in Thailand,” she says. “I was always happy to be in the kitchen. I loved to help my grandma and mum prepare the food.”
That happiness has stayed with Siriluck and her work. Affectionately known as “Chef Mum”, her warm disposition and beaming smile will melt your heart while her food charms your taste buds. “I approach cooking like I am cooking for my own family - I only like to send out food that I myself would be happy to eat,” she says.
The family approach is something that Siriluck extends to her guests. She aims to speak with every person who orders Thai dishes at mezza9. It’s akin to a personalised dining experience in which the chef finds out how she can tailor the food to each guest’s tastes.
With the near-omnipresence of Thai restaurants in Macau, this gesture helps Siriluck and her team stand out. “I care about the person I’m cooking for. I want everyone who eats Thai food here to want to come back to see me again,” she says.
Among Siriluck signature home-style dishes at mezza9 are Thai royal chicken dumplings, a traditional afternoon tea snack for Thailand’s royal family; deep-fried sea bass with chilli tamarind sauce, pairing freshly caught fish with a unique, slightly spicy sauce that Siriluck makes herself using a secret recipe; and mango sticky rice with homemade Thai tea ice cream, a favourite among diners.
The popular belief that Thai cuisine begins and ends with spicy dishes is one that Gina Pungjaroenkijkul, head chef of Saffron at the Banyan Tree Hotel, wishes to dispel. “I like to educate people that if you come to Saffron for Thai food, it’s not all just spicy food,” she says. “Traditional Thai food is balancing flavours – sour, salty, sweet and spicy.”
The chef is always happy to customise dishes and reduce the level of chilli to suit individual tastes.
“I’ve found that not too many people who dine [at Saffron] like to eat spicy food, so most of the dishes on offer are made with local tastes in mind and are less spicy,” she says. “Some customers do ask for traditional Thai food, and then I will add more chilli. But we find that locals mainly enjoy seafood, and so we’ve added more seafood dishes to our menu.”
Situated just off the bustling promenade of shops at Galaxy Macau, stepping into the Banyan Tree’s premises is like entering a Thai oasis of calm. With Oriental-inspired décor and its signature incense wafting through the space, Saffron offer a dining experience that caters to all the senses, not just your taste buds.
Chef Gina also regularly teaches Thai cooking classes at Saffron to groups of four to eight people. She enjoys demonstrating how to make classic Thai dishes like tom yum goong, green curry and seafood salad. “I’m happy as long as I can continue bringing traditional Thai food to Macau.”
TURN DOWN THE HEAT
Thai cuisine is not always super spicy. Here are some relatively mild dishes to try:
This Thai-style Siamese herb pomelo salad with prawns is less on the spicy side, but is otherwise the perfect balance of sour, salty, sweet, crunchy and juicy that proves to be downright addictive.
Available at Naam. G/F, Grand Lapa Macau, 956-1110 Avenida da Amizade, (853) 8793 4818
MOO OBB NARM PHEUNG
These roasted and peppered pork spare ribs glazed in a black pepper and honeycomb sauce are mouthwateringly delicious.
Available at Saffron. G/F, Banyan Tree Macau, Galaxy Macau, Avenida Marginal Flor de Lotus, Cotai, Coloane-Taipa, (853) 8883 6061
THAI ROYAL DUMPLINGS
A favourite afternoon snack of the Thai royal family, the minced chicken, coriander paste and soya sauce combination makes this regal snack irresistibly tasty but non-spicy all the same.
Available at mezza9. 3/F, Grand Hyatt Macau, City of Dreams, Estrada do Istmo, Cotai, Coloane-Taipa, (853) 8868 1234