Kitchen Tips

Discover a taste of Macao

If you’re a serious foodie, Macao and its Macanese fusion cuisine simply must be on your gastronomic radar. With its history as a Portuguese colony and present governance by China, the tiny islands, dubbed a UNESCO Creative City for Gastronomy, offer a unique blend of flavour you won’t get anywhere else.

I'm here on what could only be described as a food odyssey, an intrepid, gastronomic adventure to a place I hadn't heard a lot about. Before I left the chilly shores of New Zealand for the hot, humid and frenetic beat of the city state off southern China, I purposely didn't find out too much about what I was in for – I like to be surprised. And boy, was I surprised.
It's a punch to the senses straight away. Having travelled via Hong Kong over the jaw-dropping 55km new bridge, we arrive in Macao's historic Taipa Village to be warmly welcomed into Manuel Pena's charming O Manel Cozinha Portuguesa, a small but very popular Portuguese diner. Surrounded by posters of Manuel's favourite football team, we start our food journey with gusto.
Taipa Village.

My First Meal

My first lesson - sardines are a regular favourite here, but not like you know them. Cooked on a charcoal grill and served whole, in accordance to Portuguese tradition, they practically fall off the bone and into your mouth. I've always loved sardines, but these freshly cooked suckers are about ten times the size of their very slender tinned brothers, and the taste is beyond anything I've ever tried.
Chargrilled sardines.
Delicately steamed clams with lemon juice are another hit tonight, as are the substantial squid and chorizo kebabs. Even dessert throws up another surprise - sensation, decadent chocolate mousse infused with the most unique flavour I can't quite pin down – turns out, it's whisky. An odd combination, sure – but don't knock it to you try it!
It's a remarkably authentic way to begin our trip, which will see us traverse almost the entirety of the 39.2 square kilometre territory over a week, and I'm dead keen to experience everything this crazy, beautiful city state has to offer.

Must-have street food

Even a casual stroll down the street offers a huge amount of new experiences. I'm smacked in the face with new smells – think rich, spicy, irresistible – as we wander through the main streets, stopping at as many street vendors as we can to sample their offerings. If you can slide it on a stick, it's here – fish balls, prawns, tofu, vegetables – with the flavours of traditional Cantonese and Portuguese cooking melding effortlessly together.
A must-do is to try the most popular street food in Macau, the pork chop bun. It's essentially the Macanese version of a burger, but the genius lies in the simplicity – a simple but flavourful breaded pork cutlet, encased in a bun that's crispy on the outside, but cloud-like soft on the inside. Pro tip with any street food – always ask for the hot chilli sauce. When in Macao, after all…
A typical street food stand.
We continue wandering through the happy chaos until our guide Joao leads us to the stoop of an unremarkable door. A small knock, and out springs the – loudly – self-proclaimed 'King of Congee', who welcomes us inside with an enthusiastic rendition of Unchained Melody.
Congee, of course, is an Asian rice porridge which is said to nourish the soul, according to the principles of Chinese traditional medicine. We certainly feel nourished, and a little bewildered, as we leave with our bellies well and truly full.

Sight seeing, sweet egg tarts and sashimi

The next few stops pass in a blur of colour – the bustling food markets, where the array of fruit and vegetables reminds me of the most vivid of rainbows as I peruse the stalls, admiring both the familiar and the very much unfamiliar produce. Followed by a stop at Lord Stow's Bakery, where locals queue to get their hands on some of the 20,000 smooth, creamy and sweet Portuguese egg tarts they produce a day.
Portuguese egg tart.
Next we head to the achingly-hip Mizumi a Japanese restaurant that has the freshest sashimi I've ever tasted specially delivered daily from Japan. Make sure you try a piece of Kumamoto wagyu steak - it left me speechless. In true Macau style, we're dropped off to the restaurant's door by our own private gondola at dusk, a truly magical moment.

Celebrating Portuguese flavours

What I'm learning about Macao is while the state's reputation lends itself to glitz and glamour – its gaming and casino industry is seven times larger than Las Vegas – its true magic lies in the simple things that are done oh-so-well, like my meal at Albergue 1601. Situated in a gorgeous and beautifully preserved colonial building, it offers an excellent wine selection, including vinho verde (green wine), a pleasant, dry, drop that I am very much becoming accustomed to.
Albergue 1601.
The menu is a celebration of Portugal's best-loved tastes and flavours, starting with a big bowl of their national soup: Caldo Verde, made from potato, kale, olive oil, salt, garlic and mushrooms - with the addition of sliced chourico (chorizo) for an extra dash of flavour. Next comes duck-baked rice, another perennial favourite. It's incredibly rich and tasty, as the fat from the duck flavours the rice as they bake together, along with chorizo and bacon.
It's so good I wonder why I don't cook duck dishes more at home, and I make a mental note to remedy the situation pronto.
The luxurious Macau Parisian Hotel's La Chine restaurant.

Fine-dining to finish

But of course, the next day brings flash and fabulous in the form of La Chine, a fine-dining establishment in Macao Parisian Hotel. This luxury complex includes an impressive mini Eiffel Tower – half the height of the original in Paris - and the restaurant is an industrial-chic masterpiece. Sumptuous furnishings (and arguably the most beautiful ladies' loos, ever!) complement Chinese cuisine with a distinct twist.
Mille feuille at La Chine.
The traditional and very moreish candied nuts arrive quickly, paired with a glass of wine, while the menu lists a fascinating variety of culinary treats - including grilled fish, beef short ribs, lobster rice rolls, yellow chicken, fried rice with shallots, egg white, caviar and pine nuts.
I'm especially keen on the lobster - it seems to be everywhere here in Macao, rather than the Kiwi diver's privilege. It's to die for – why don't I know more divers?
As you'd expect, the desserts are mind-blowingly good, too - exotic crispy black truffle custard ball with Macanese egg tart mille-feuille, and the berries and almond flower in a chilled Osmanthus soup comes with a dramatic burst of dry ice. Fancy!
Ruins of St. Paul's.

Meet me in Macau

In my week in this fascinating place, I've tried things I've never even heard of, eaten combinations of flavours I'd never even think to put together, and met some of the friendliest, accommodating hosts I've ever encountered. With Macao actively promoting itself as an international city of gastronomy, the numbers of visitors will inevitably grow. My advice? Get to the front of the queue. The lobster is to die for.
To find out more head to www.visitmacao.co.nz

Special thanks to

  • Rocks Hotel
  • Macao Parisian Hotel
  • Jade Orchid at the Harbourview Hotel
  • O Manuel
  • Alberque
  • Lounge 38 at the Altira Hotel
  • Mansoon Restaurant at the Altira Hotel
  • Le Chine at the Eiffel Tower
  • Meza 9 of Grand Hyatt
  • Neta's Kitchen
  • Mizumi Restaurant
  • Voyager by Alain Ducasse at Morpheus Hotel