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The complete foodie guide to Macao

The complete foodie guide to Macao

by Great British Chefs 17 September 2019

The convergence of Portuguese and Chinese cultures makes beautiful Macao one of the most unique food destinations in the world. Join us as we dive into this distinctive region and take a look at some of the gastronomic treasures hidden within.


We’re always fascinated by how history shapes food and culture. The confluence of different food traditions creates some of the most interesting and exciting food in the world, and nowhere is that more true than in fascinating Macao, which lies just forty miles from Hong Kong on China’s south coast.

An important part of the ancient Silk Road due to its location at the mouth of the Pearl River, the Portuguese arrived in Macao in the sixteenth century and founded a city that would become a vital trade gateway between Europe and the East, and a crossroads for east-meets-west cultures. A Special Administrative Region of China since 1999, Macao's Portuguese history is still very tangible. Cantonese may be the most widely spoken language here, but as you walk through the bustling streets you’ll notice that both Portuguese and Chinese names still appear on the road signs.

This cultural fusion can also be seen in the architecture. Buddhist and Taoist temples stand proudly alongside pastel-coloured neo-classical buildings, traditional Chinese residences meet elegant squares emblazoned with Portuguese cobblestone tiles. It’s no wonder that the Historic Centre of Macao has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005 – there’s no escaping its unique history.

But it’s not just Macao’s historic attractions that draw an ever-growing number of visitors here. Macao boasts a vibrant nightlife and entertainment scene, worthy of much larger destinations.

Daytime options include the 338m Macau Tower, home to a range of adrenaline sports including the world’s highest bungee jump. Visitors looking for something a little gentler can visit the adorable residents at the Macao Giant Panda Pavilion or head to the beaches, countryside and laidback vibe of Coloane in the south. At night, Macao lights up and night owls will find themselves spoilt for choice with a host of glamorous bars and clubs, glitzy casinos and world-class shows like the breathtaking House of Dancing Water with its high-dive acrobatics.

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Macao’s east-meets-west character can be seen in its colourful architecture
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Once the sun goes down, the city's famous nightlife comes alive

Macao's food scene

And then there’s the food. Macao is one of the world’s great food destinations – a gastronomic paradise that became a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in 2017, alongside the likes of Parma in Italy, Belém in Brazil and Östersund in Sweden. Given Macao’s relatively small size, it boasts a remarkable number of Michelin-starred restaurants, including three three-starred restaurants – Jade Dragon, Robuchon au Dôme and The Eight – as well as a wide choice of delicious street food that is popular with locals and visitors alike.

The city’s food scene is also built on its fascinating cultural heritage. You’ll find traditional Portuguese eateries serving bacalhau (salt cod), sardines and chouriço (a traditional Portuguese chorizo) alongside quaint Chinese tea houses and long-established dim sum establishments, and these two traditional cornerstones form the foundation for something very special indeed. Macanese cuisine is one of the world’s oldest fusion cuisines; taking elements of Portuguese and Chinese cooking, but also heavily influenced by the old Portuguese trade routes that ran through India, Africa and South East Asia. As Portuguese traders settled in Macao, they brought ingredients and cooking styles from these regions with them like curry leaves, coconut milk, cinnamon, cloves and other spices, creating a melting pot of flavours that became Macanese cuisine.

Below are just a few examples of Macao's most popular dishes.

Famous local dishes

African chicken (galinha à Africana)

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An iconic Macanese dish, African Chicken is a perfect distillation of how Macao’s diverse cultural heritage comes together to make something delicious and can be found in restaurants all over Macao. Chicken is marinated in a spicy chilli and garlic paste then oven cooked with a coconut basting sauce. Like many Macanese dishes, recipes can vary, with some versions featuring additional ingredients such as peanuts and Chinese five spice. The resulting dish is more than the sum of its parts and for many people, no visit to Macao is complete without enjoying some African Chicken!

Dim sum

Like the rest of southern China, dim sum is very popular in Macao, and you can find fantastic quality at both ends of the price spectrum. Head to Jade Dragon or The Eight – two of Macao’s three Michelin-starred restaurants – and you’ll be treated to some of the best dim sum in the world, but equally, you’ll find lots of neighbourhood dim sum joints and traditional teahouses where you can feast on mountains of siu mai and har gau at very affordable prices.

Macanese chilli prawns (gambas à Macao)

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Another popular Macanese dish that combines both Portuguese and Chinese influences is gambas à Macao. Prawns are stuffed with a mixture of garlic, shallot, chilli and parsley, then fried in a hot wok, Chinese-style. The Portuguese touch comes in the olive oil they are cooked in and the finish with a splash of white wine and a knob of butter before serving. This is simple cookery, but absolutely delicious!

Braised tamarind pork (porco balichao tamarindo)

This wonderful sweet and sour dish combines Portuguese cooking techniques with flavours from India, Malaysia and China. The key, according to Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes, is in the balichão – a fermented shrimp paste that gives the dish a real savoury punch to balance out the tang of the tamarind. He recommends serving with a garnish of garlic chips, Thai basil, ginger and lime for a lovely aromatic finish.

Minchi

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Many claim the name 'minchi' came from the English word ‘mince’ and the English-speaking inhabitants of nearby Hong Kong, and this is another Macanese dish where every restaurant – and family - has its own recipe, each claiming to serve the best in the city. At its foundation, minchi consists of minced beef and pork, cooked down with garlic, shallots and spices, as well as a combination of soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and sometimes molasses. The final rich, savoury result is served over fried potatoes and finished with a fried egg.

Curried prawns and okra (caril de camarão com quiabos)

This braised prawn dish uses ground peanuts to give body and flavour to the sauce and also includes curry powder, tomatoes and okra, giving it a distinctly African vibe. In his recipe, chef Nuno Mendes maximises the flavour of his prawns by removing and toasting the shells, then boiling them to make a stock, which he then uses to braise his prawns in. The result is a wonderful, comforting braise that packs real flavour.

Pork chop bun

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The pork chop bun is Macao’s go-to street food snack. A marinated pork chop is flashed across a very hot grill and served in a bun that is crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. It sounds simple, but it’s utterly delicious. Some places serve their pork chops in a pineapple bun (which, rather than containing any actual pineapple, gets its name from the sweet crust baked on top which makes it look a bit like a pineapple) for some extra sweet-meets-savoury deliciousness.

Egg custard tarts (pastéis de nata)

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Pastéis de nata are famous the world over as a Portuguese delicacy – a delicious combo of buttery, flaky pastry and baked egg custard. In the late 1980s, Englishman Andrew created his own version of this sweet snack for his bakery in Macao, incorporating an English touch and introducing the 'Portuguese Egg Tart' to Asia. Today they are found all over Macao, but the most famous still come from “Lord Stow’s Bakery”, which is said to serve thousands of the tarts every day.

Macao makes a perfect addition to a Far East holiday or stop-over for those flying to Australia or New Zealand. From Hong Kong it is just a one-hour fast ferry ride or forty-five-minute journey across the spectacular Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge, which opened in 2018. Alternatively, Macao International Airport offers flight connections from a large number of destinations around the region.

So, whether you’re in the mood to experience Macao’s east-meets-west culture, renowned food scene or buzzing nightlife, this is a destination that really does have something for everyone. This is a place unlike any other, and a must-visit for anyone looking to eat some of the most unique and delicious food in the world.

For further information about Macao: visitmacao.co.uk

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The complete foodie guide to Macao

 
 

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