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Macanese cuisine offers something for every taste due to its varied roots

Macau’s restaurants are renowned for offering distinctive flavours

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 9:49am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 2:43pm

You might say Macanese cuisine is the original fusion food. Hong Kong diners are generally familiar with the dishes, but many find describing the cuisine much more difficult.

It is not traditional Portuguese and the spices and sauces are different than Chinese, but there are traces of both. Generally, fans agree the distinctive flavours are unlike any other cuisine. Yet, it is tricky to place the origins of the dishes because in most cases it might not come from just one specific source. In short, Macanese food is a kind of beloved culinary mutt. The obvious influences might be Portuguese and Chinese, but its DNA goes far deeper.

As one of the old world’s largest empires in the 16th and 17th century, Portuguese explorers established colonial outposts across vast swathes of the world, its powers stretching from Brazil to Africa, Latin America and to different seaports in Southeast Asia. Its enterprising merchants disseminated goods all over the diaspora. 

In this part of the globe, not only was Macau a colony, Malay territories, such as Malacca, Indian provinces such as Goa, and the island of East Timor, were part of a commonwealth. The food in Macau began to reflect this exchange. Ingredients and spices arrived from all over through Portuguese sailors and their traditional dishes and food took on new structures prepared and cooked with local and Chinese techniques.

When imported spices such as turmeric, curry, coconut milk, cloves and cinnamon, were added, rustic old world stews with a base of red wine, salted cod (bacalhau), rabbit or pig’s ear took on new flavours and smells. Although difficult to define and identify its specific lineage, Macanese cuisine’s special characteristics are constituted enough that it was inscribed on the Macau Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2012.

So what is a Macanese dish? There are famous items offered at most Macau restaurants. Dishes such as caldo verde (Macanese green soup), galinha à Portuguesa, galinha à Africana (African chicken), fried bacalhau, pato de cabidela, Macanese chilli shrimps, minchee and serradura (Macau sawdust pudding) are familiar. However, various chefs may have different ways to prepare each entree. 

For many, Macanese dining is not just about the food but the place where the enjoyment occurs. Everyone has a preferred iconic Macau restaurant or snack stall.

One local favourite is the Restaurante Litoral (261 Rua do Almirante Sergio. Tel 853 2896 7878), started by a housewife, Manuela Ferreira, who just liked to host people. Litoral is located in a charming old two-storey house with whitewashed stucco and iron grills. It serves the whole Portuguese and Macau repertoire doing justice to every plate. Try the seemingly simple caldo verde, a rich green vegetable soup. Here it uses collard greens thickened with potatoes. Some places will add chorizo sausage for depth, but Litoral keeps it light and fresh.

African chicken is attributed to a hotel chef named Americo Angelo, who in the 1940s created the dish after a visit to another colony in Africa. Essentially, it’s barbecued chicken with a spicy pepper sauce. One of the popular spots for the dish is Henri’s Galley (Shop G-H, 4 Av. Da Republice, R/C, Sai Van. Tel. 853 2855 6251), whose exact recipe has been a debate among gastronomes since its opening in 1976.

Bacalhau (salt cod) is a signature ingredient in Portugal and it’s the same in Macau. O Santos (20 Rua de Cunha, Taipa. Tel 853 2882 5594) excels at seafood and its preparation of fried bacalhau is no exception. Espaço Lisboa (8 Rua das Gaivotas, Coloane. Tel 853 2888 2226) is another humble eatery with hearty casseroles and generous curries. But the winner is its home-made serradura, often jokingly referred to as the sawdust dessert, made with layers of frozen cream and cookie crumbles.

There are plenty of other terrific Macanese establishments, such as A Lorcha (Rua do Almirante Sergio Nº289 AA R/C, Tel 853 2831 3193) and old favourite Restaurante Fernando’s (9 Praia de Hac Sa, Tel. 853 2888 2531). Most self-respecting Macanese eateries will that serve dishes from indigenous creations such as minchee, a spiced mince meat platter, to time-tested popular treats such as Portuguese roast suckling pig. Macau dining does offer something for every taste.