Why Macau being the latest Unesco ‘creative city of gastronomy’ is a sad irony

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 9:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 10:10pm

In the 1980s and 90s, ordinary people in Macau enjoyed cheap and delicious dishes at food stands and food stalls everywhere around town. During weekends and holidays, it was common to see the downtown area packed with tourists from Hong Kong looking for good local food.

Many traditional restaurants there provided customers with a wide selection of cuisines, like shrimp dumpling noodles, congee with giblets, pawpaw milk shake, sweet bean curd, egg waffle, red bean ice, and so on.

Customers felt the restaurants were full of warmth and friendliness, because the owners ran the shops with their hearts. Macau at that period could be dubbed “a city of gastronomy”.

Unfortunately, this widespread renown came to an end shortly after the opening of the Macau gambling sector in 2002.

Amid increasingly high rental costs and a new policy confining the food stands business to the streets, most historical restaurants in the downtown area and food stands in the avenues and alleys ended their business or were compulsorily closed by the government.

Many locals like me at first ignored this measure taken against the street vendors, until we became aware of what the government had done mainly favoured vested interests.

Perhaps it was a strategy to force visitors to take their meals in the casino resort hotels and take part in gambling activities.

Nowadays, tourists no longer enjoy good quality cuisine in the restaurants located in Senado Square, as most of them have been replaced by jewellery shops, pharmacies and cosmetics and beauty shops. But there is some irony in the fact that Unesco early last month declared Macau a “Creative City of Gastronomy”, a prestige that most locals and Hongkongers at my age do not agree with, unless it were the 1980s and 90s.

That is because good food must be cooked with heart and time, or it is impossible to create good quality cuisine. Motivated by quick money, most businessmen these days follow utilitarian principles and pay more attention to profit rather than quality.

Restaurants in Macau these days rarely prepare food with heart as they did in the past, and ordinary people can hardly afford the meals in extravagant casino resorts.

The government should do something to match Macau with its “creative city of gastronomy” label.

Barnaby Ieong, Macau