Whenever I travel some place new, I get excited to immerse all my senses with different sights, sounds, and tastes. Big emphasis on taste, especially flavors and aromas that are uniquely theirs. My recent trip to Macau is no different -- it was my first time to travel there, so all the more I was eager to eat my way around this bustling Asian destination.
Being part of China, and just a short ferry ride from Hong Kong -- and also being once a colony of Portugal -- Macau's food I had imagined to be vibrant and varied, using different spices, and incorporating both western and oriental cooking techniques and ingredients. And colorful it was! Here are some of my picks should you want to turn yourself Macanese with their delicious food.
Gosto: Portugal on Your Palate
At the ground floor, East Promenade of the new Galaxy Macau is Gosto, a restaurant which aims to evoke the elegance of old world Portugal in its interior design and in its cuisine. Its name Gosto, which means 'to like' or 'relish,' is very apt -- there are so many scrumptious offerings that merit extra servings and generous spoonfuls.
Ceramics are distinctly Portuguese in Gosto
I recommend their Caldo Verde, a seemingly simple-looking soup which is potato based, and served with spinach. Our waitstaff, headed by a Filipino named Beo, told us that this soup is traditionally eaten with a little drizzling of olive oil. I drizzle, and I taste. It made a lot of difference, pulling together the spinach, broth, and the strips of chorizo that add saltiness.
Caldo Verde, Serradura, and Portuguese Suckling Pig
Want to feast like a Portuguese? Then order the Leitão Assado (Portuguese Suckling Pig with Orange, MOP 680 Advance Order). It is a huge platter of roast suckling pig that definitely is out to impress, served with with tomato fried rice and potato fries. Yes, rice and fries. Unlike our own lechon, they eat it without any sauces. The rice also comes with bits of Chinese sausage, adding a sweet salty flavor into it. End your meal with the simple and sweet Serradura (MOP 28), a glass cup of biscuit mousse. This chilled Macanese-Portuguese dessert is made out of crushed biscuits (remember the Marie biscuits of our childhood? Tastes just like it!) and whipped cream with a twist of vanilla.
Lord Stow's Bakery: Home of the Popular Egg Tart
Yes, Portuguese egg tarts have found their way into our country; it's been over a decade since Lord Stow's Bakery introduced stores and stalls in Manila. But nothing beats actually taking a road trip to visit its original home in Macau -- a nondescript little bakery in Coloane Town Square. While it may look like your run of the mill neighborhood store, a whiff of the wildly intoxicating aroma of freshly baked goodies declare that you've found a goldmine.
Lord Stow's Bakery: creator of the egg tart famous throughout Asia
There are other treats in store for you at Lord Stow's like an assortment of cookies, breads, croissants, cakes, even salad plates. But I zeroed in on their famous Portuguese Egg Tarts (7 MOP per piece, 40 MOP for six), which I see their bakers transport by trays to and from the kitchen to a truck. A friend told me that the egg tarts served in Manila have been tweaked to adjust to local taste and ingredients, so I took a bite out of mine (freshly made!) and let my tastebuds decide. Its sweetness is less cloying, the caramelized top a delight to crack with every crunch of my bite. And oh my, how crisp and buttery that puff pastry was! Just the thought of eating the original egg tart is making me salivate...
Egg tarts are best eaten within 6 hours of purchase
Cozinha Pinocchio: Three Decades Strong
If a restaurant has stood the test of time, then in my book, that merits a visit or two. Thirty four years and counting, Cozinha Pinocchio at Taipa Village has been known for serving great Portuguese dishes and as well as cooking up its own signature dishes. A local told me that this is their go-to place when they want to celebrate special occasions and holidays, as serving sizes are big and the restaurant itself is spacious and can hold private functions.
It is said that this restaurant, founded in 1977 by Mr. Pina (a.k.a. "Pinocchio" during his childhood days), is the first Portuguese restaurant in Tapia that showcases both Portuguese and Macanese fare. As in the other Portuguese-Macanese restaurants we've tried during our trip, our meal starts with a basket of Portuguese bread -- crisp and a bit chalky on the outside, soft and warm on the inside. Slather some butter and enjoy it all the more.
The bread connection: Portuguese restaurants have these crisp breads as a starter
Hot Prawns with Garlic & Salt, Fried Crab with Curry Sauce, and Portuguese Chicken
Notable dishes we had for lunch are Hot Prawns with Garlic & Salt (MOP 95/MOP 180), Fried Crab with Curry Sauce (Occasional/Seasonal Price), and Portuguese Chicken (MOP 98/MOP 158/MOP 316). The prawns were perfectly spiced and not tongue-wagging hot, while the crab was just deliciously indulgent. The tender chicken is smothered in curry and is lightly spiced and served with potatoes and olives. Speaking of olives -- Macanese-Portuguese cuisine seems to be fond of it, as most dishes have them. Being a chicken lover, I had second helpings of the Portuguese chicken and wiped my plate clean of the yellow curry sauce using the bread.
Play the Longest Line at The Grand Buffet
Aside from people coming in droves to hit the casino of Grand Lisboa Macau, hungry customers line up for dinner every evening to kill their hunger with their popular The Grand Buffet. This restaurant boasts 230 feet of food choices, from appetizer, soups and salads, entrees, down to dessert (you should always leave room for dessert). The Grand Buffet is said to be the longest buffet line in Asia, so prepare for a dizzying array of international dishes, with cooking stations that serve a la minute.
As their buffet is only available for dinner, prepare earlier in the afternoon and avoid a heavy lunch or afternoon snack. Adults get in for MOP 280 per head, while children below 12 years old and senior citizens get in for MOP 230.
Feast all you can!
I was overwhelmed with so many choices -- seafood, Mongolian grill items, barbecued meats, tempura and sushi, teppanyaki, even an Indian station. I found myself doing what I usually do in international buffets -- start with the raw (sushi, sashimi), skip the rice (it fills the tummy too quickly), be picky with the meats and seafood, then end with a light dessert. I loved the fried dumpling and sashimi choices at the buffet line, and had seconds of cold noodles smothered in lip-smacking peanut sauce. I ended on a sweet note with fruit slices and sticky rice treats.
Lua Azul: Dimsum Delights
If savoring the orient's flavors is the pick of your palate, then let Lua Azul's dimsum offerings enthrall your tastebuds. Open for lunch and dinner, this restaurant at the Macau Tower is the top pick of yuppies and executives for their Guangdong, Chouzou, and Huaiyang cuisine. Its ambiance is elegant, and extra privacy for functions can be had with their exclusive VIP rooms.
I enjoyed the Braised Noodles with Shredded Chicken and Mushrooms, its tasty broth soothing and heartwarming. Other tasty options include Steamed Chicken Feet with Spicy Sauce, Steamed Turnip Cake with jerked pork (had seconds of it), Steamed Beef Ribs with Black Pepper Sauce (perfect with rice, if you still have space for it), and the savory and sweet Steamed rice flour rolls with barbecue pork and abalone mushroom.
Want some dimsum?
We were also served Deep-fried Mashed Taro Coated by Shrimp served in creamy sauce -- I haven't tasted anything like it here in our country, and now that I'm remembering its crisp texture and lip smacking salty-sweetness, I wish I could transport myself back to Macau just for a dumpling or two. Or four.
Cafe Litoral: More Portuguese, Please
It was my first time to taste Portuguese food last month during my Macau trip, and as most firsts, one wants to savor every moment. Our last dinner was a Portuguese feast at the tourist hub in Taipa in a restaurant called Cafe Litoral. This charming establishment had a European tavern theme, giving a homey ambiance for the evening.
Once again, we start with their staple bread and butter, then had several appetizers. All Portuguese restaurants we tried serve codfish, and Litoral's little platter of Codfish Cakes (55 MOP) were soft and salty croquettes that I couldn't get enough of. Their Pig's Ear Salad (MOP 55) in my opinion isn't too exotic to try out -- after all, we do have sisig. Its preparation and flavor reminds me of our kilawin, so this is more familiar than alien for the Filipino palate. Their Baked Duck Rice (MOP 75) reminded me a bit of the Spanish paella; their version though highlights the Portuguese sausage, adding more saltiness. One house special worth trying too is their African Chicken (MOP 180).
Codfish Cakes, Pig's Ear Salad, and Baked Duck Rice
Always a best seller, this dish is also distinctly Macanese, seasoned with various spices. An original Macau delicacy, it is saucy and fiery in appearance. At Cafe Litoral, the chicken meat is tender and there is enough bite and heat in every forkful. After eating around and savoring Macau's flavor-blending dishes, my belly and I agree -- tasting Macau is muito delicioso!
*Note: MOP or Macau Pataca is their local currency (roughly 5-6 PHP for 1MOP). Its value is equal to Hong Kong Dollars (HKD), and most establishments in Macau accept HKD.