Macao, Foodies Paradise
The first thing you see landing into Macao is the towering silhouettes of the casinos, dozens of glass and concrete behemoths looming over the horizon, shrouded in sickly neon mist, firing laser over the sky. There's the hulking, lotus-shaped Grand Lisboa, the rust-coloured reproduction of Las Vegas' Wynn, the opulent towers of the Galaxy. Unlike mainland China, gambling has been legal in Macao since 1850, an industry that makes up more than half its local economy. Most people you speak with will have come to either gamble or to watch a sporting event. You could embrace this element of Macao; bungee jump from the top of the Macao Tower, blow your load at the casino, check out the pandas at the zoo. But there's another side with an altogether more subtle charm, the that is it culinary side.
From dim sum and sweet pastries to fine dining with a skyline view, Macao is sure to satisfy every palate. Macao is a heaven for foodies, and its interesting and rich history, with influences from around the globe, makes it a must-visit for any flavour-obsessed traveller. Whether you’re looking to try flaky sweet pastries, indulge in unusual street food or swap the stalls for Michelin-starred dining, you’ll definitely eat well for every meal.
As well as delicious Chinese food of all kinds and some of the best Portuguese food outside Portugal, the local Macanese cuisine – one of the world’s first fusion cuisines – includes flavours from Africa, India, South East Asia and South America. Duck into the local restaurants and you’ll find menu packed with regional dishes, including the subtle spices of minchi. The pork and beef mince dish is seasoned with garlic, bay leaf and soy sauce, and is often topped with egg, and is a fast-track insight into the delicious world of Macanese foodie culture. Elsewhere you can discover porco tamarindo, a rich flavour- packed stew with shrimp paste, sugar, Chinese seasonings and tamarind, or curry crab – a fragrant curry with a sweet and thick sauce.
The strong African influence is showcased in another popular local dish, Galinha a Africana: the delicious Macanese specialty features chicken cooked with mixed tropical spices and coconut milk, and is a culinary highlight of Macao. For street-side dining, you’ll get your fill around the 16th- century Ruins of St Paul’s, which sits in the middle of The Historic Centre, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Here the stalls are stacked with luminous meat jerky which is as sticky as it is moreish. Elsewhere on Rua da Cunha, or ‘Food Street’, you can lose yourself in a maze of colourful restaurants and bakeries, while stopping to sample various versions of Macao’s famous deep-fried pork chop bun, which is its own delicious take on the humble burger.
If you’re looking for something smarter, Macao boasts 16 Michelin- starred restaurants to choose from, where delicious, inventive cuisine sits alongside incredible service and spectacular settings. The Eight has three stars to its name, and creates exceptional looking, and tasting, dim sum. The signature gold-fish shaped shrimp dumplings, and hedgehog- shaped pork buns are a must-try. Meanwhile, Robuchon au Dome, which also holds three Michelin stars, serves up decadent French cuisine in a sophisticated chandelier-lit room, with some of the best views over Macao available from its tables.
Macao’s culinary influence is shaped by its unique heritage, and that’s still reflected today. A perfect example of this is the city’s most famous snack – pastel de nata. These delicious egg tarts are a twist on the traditional Portuguese version, and one of the best places to try them is Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane (it was set up by an Englishman, Andrew Stow, who created his recipe in 1989). Macao is responsible for introducing the egg custard tart to Asia. According to the famous Lard Stow's Bakery they shift up to 14,000 of them every day. Other snacks include almond cakes, egg rolls and peanut candies that are loved by locals and visitors, alike.
After you have had enough why not see another more subtle side to this destination, the laidback, almost lazy atmosphere that's a perfect solution to a full stomach. The old town is a great place for a stroll, the cobbled lanes with their jaunty pastel-coloured buildings are quietly spectacular. Tiny shrines litter the pavements, built into shops-fronts like pieces of street art, each one no more than half a metre high. The area's colonial past is apparent everywhere you look, from the shuttered windows and European architecture to the street signs, which are printed in both Chinese and Portuguese. The ruins of St Paul dominate the old town centre.