With just over a week in Hong Kong, we decided that I had time to spend a day in Macau, the former longtime Portuguese colony just an hour away. I fell pretty hard for this island, with its mixture of old Portuguese-style architecture, Chinese buildings and modern flashy casinos. What a mix it is and it describes today’s Macau perfectly. That fusion of Portugal and China can also be seen in the local food culture.
From the ferry port, we headed straight to the old town, bypassing all the casinos and their artificiality, and first stopped at Koi Kee bakery for a Macanese egg tart. The Portuguese influence is pretty obvious here; the tarts resemble the famous Portuguese ones from Lisbon. They’re just as delicious though the pastry was more like puff pastry over the crispier layered pastry favoured by the Portuguese.
If you’re in Macau, the Ruins of St Paul’s are highly likely to be on your list of places to see as it was for me. Next to the ruins is a fantastic little gift shop called Macau Creations where all the goods are designed by artists from Macau. I’m glad we stopped in here as a very kind girl working there took a look at the name of a cafe we were hoping to visit in the afternoon on Taipa and told us that it had closed. Gasp! Where were we going to go for the best pork chop bun?! She had the answer.
Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei was originally on Taipa Island but had closed recently and relocated just down the street from Macau Creations. It’s no longer a cafe but a little takeaway hole-in-the-wall.
And this is what they’re famous for – their pork chop buns. Again, this is quite the Macanese speciality – there is something similar in Portuguese cuisine but the flavours are a bit different. The chop had been marinated and fried and stuffed in a classic Portuguese bun. It’s simple yet so ridiculously tasty.
After a wander around the quieter streets with our pork chop buns, we descended back down the busy snack street from the ruins. I can’t remember the name of the street but you really can’t miss it: it’s lined with shops selling Macanese pastries, biscuits, pork chop buns, grilled meat jerkies. There were lots of vendors pushing samples on us and I found myself filling up on them!
These almond biscuits are particularly famous in Macau but I found them a bit too dry for my liking.
The meat jerkies though were delicious but I didn’t buy any. I did leave Macau with a bag of peanut and black sesame cookies though.
For lunch, we headed to a restaurant recommended by my guidebook, a little out of the way place called Afonso III. While the cuisine was defined as Macanese, we found it leaning more towards Portuguese and the restaurant itself could have been anywhere in Portugal. The place was served by the grumpiest Macanese woman but she softened a bit when we thanked her in Portuguese.
A cuttlefish and white bean stew arrived in a Chinese clay pot and was absolutely delicious. The bread basket came in handy to sop up all the gravy. M fell utterly in love with this stew as it reminded her of one from her childhood.
Bacalhau (salt cod) is regarded as particularly Macanese and we also ordered a bacalhau baked with potatoes and plenty of garlic. It was slicked with plenty of delicious garlicky olive oil and piled high with salty cod and tender potatoes. After a whole week of Chinese food, I missed this kind of Mediterranean food!
The portions were humongous and M brought all the leftovers home, cooing over them and spending the rest of the day sniffing the bag in which they were carried.
We finished the meal with a flan – it was a bit stiff and eggy but still alright. Still, despite the grumpy waitress and the too stiff flan, I loved the place and felt quite at home there. Prices seemed a little stiff to begin with but turned out to be alright when we discovered that each dish could serve three.
11A Rua Central
We continued our walk around the old town and stumbled upon Rua da Felicidade (a former red light district) without actually aiming for it. There were lots of shops and restaurants within the row of buildings that I’d love to explore more if I ever get back to Macau.
I couldn’t leave without actually attempting to gamble at one of those fancy new casinos but we both failed pretty miserably at the Venetian on Taipa Island (um…there were an awful lot of buttons on the slot machines…). Still, we had a good gawp at the “open air” replicas of St Mark’s Square and the canals.
The free casino bus was caught back to the ferry port and we slept all the way back to Hong Kong – it had been a fine day in Macau! I definitely recommend heading over there if you have the chance; I’d skip the casinos and focus on the old Portuguese-Chinese fusion evident in the architecture and food.
All my photos from Macau can be found in this Flickr photoset.