The Macau menu: fusion cuisine and Michelin stars
Before television reality shows and restaurants began adding curry even to coffee, the Macanese were already experts in fusion cuisine. What might seem just a fad has been a tradition in this Asian peninsula for more than four centuries.
The gastronomic history of Macau dates back to the early 16th century, when the Portuguese landed on the south coast of China. It was also a time of great discoveries for Europe; navigators, in search of new trade routes between the Old Continent and the Far East, stumbled upon new exotic flavours. Locals embraced European cooking techniques as easily as they folded turmeric, cinnamon and ginger into coconut milk. The daringly unlikely combinations created recipes that included a pinch of China and Portugal, and a hint of Africa, India and Southeast Asia; stops along the route followed by the Portuguese sailors. It was the birth of Macanese cuisine, one of the oldest fusion cuisines in the world.
Drinking in Macau
Traditional medicinal herbal teas from Macau, Hong Kong and Guangdong are also part of the region’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. But there’s more. Thanks to their Portuguese heritage, the Macanese are specialists in wine. The Wine Museum exhibits more than 1,100 brands of Portuguese and Chinese wines, including a bottle of port from 1815.
The result is an inimitable gastronomy, so unique that it has been recognised as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Macau. Its star dishes, such as ‘Galinha à Africana’ (African chicken), reflect this multicultural background. The chicken is coated with a spicy piri piri sauce, imported from Mozambique and Angola by the Portuguese (piri piri is Swahili for hot pepper), and sometimes includes coconut milk and peanuts.
It features on the menus of traditional restaurants like Henri’s Galley, or Espaço Lisboa, on the island of Coloane, which specialises in Portuguese cuisine. At Restaurante Litoral, Manuela Ferreira showcases the Macanese identity with recipes handed down through generations of native women. Besides African Chicken, the menu boasts what is probably the favourite dish of Macau’s young people, minchi, made with minced beef, chips, rice and egg.
At the high end of Macau’s culinary spectrum are the restaurants located inside luxury hotels. The iconic Grand Lisboa houses no less than three restaurants that have been awarded Michelin stars. One of them, The Eight, is Macau’s first and only three-Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant. Its menu is a blend of two of China’s traditional cuisines, Cantonese and Huaiyang, with an interesting contemporary twist. Highlights include shark fin soup and over 50 types of dim sum.
Restaurants are not the only places to enjoy Macanese cuisine. The cobbled streets are packed with street food stalls serving delicious curried fish balls and pork chop buns. The best version of the buns is found at Tai Lei Lok Kei, on the island of Taipa, to the south of Macau. Senado Square, Rua de São Paulo and Rua Do Cunha (known as Food Street) are obligatory locations for sampling local kerbside treats. Even the sweetest tooth is catered for. Besides cream pastries and almond biscuits, there is the famous sawdust pudding made with condensed milk and sprinkled with biscuit crumbs—an incredible fusion dessert and a local favourite.