When feast meets West
On the hunt for one of the world’s first fusion cuisines
HUGO Robarts Bandeira is a man on a mission, quixotic at times, to collect and record the recipes of old Macau.
A curious blend of East meets West and slow cooking meets needs must, Macanese cuisine evolved following the arrival of the Portuguese in the Pearl River Delta, downstream from Canton (Guangzhou), in the mid-16th century. ‘‘It’s one of the earliest forms of fusion cuisine,’’ says Bandeira, lecturer at Macau’s Institute for Tourism Studies and former president of the Macanese Gastronomy Association.
‘‘The Portuguese brought with them spices collected in Malaysia, Malacca and India, and began re-creating traditional recipes using these exotic ingredients . . . Some dishes are very Portuguese, others more Asian, but the Chinese influence is not as strong as you would imagine,’’ he tells me.
Macanese food is ostensibly a ‘ ‘ family-based cuisine and not always restaurant friendly’’, Bandeira says. Many recipes take days to cook and rely on oldfashioned methods and declasse ingredients, including lard.
Bandeira created the gastronomy association five years ago to preserve a food culture increasingly at risk but he’s had tremendous trouble wresting secret recipes from the hands of family matriarchs.
Not, however, the indomitable Aida Jesus, 95, who cooks her mother’s recipes in the tiny Riquexo (Rickshaw) restaurant she’s run for more than four decades on the Avenida Sidonio Pais in the Hoi Fu neighbourhood.
Her basement restaurant is starkly lit and diners perch at formica tables after helping themselves from the small dailychanging buffet.
Today there’s feijoada (pork, cabbage, kidney beans and chorizo), curry chicken ( more Malay than Indian), and pork with bitter melon and shrimp paste.
Aida is busy breaking in a new chef ( something at which she excels). As a young bride she had three cooks in her home kitchen to manage, and since opening Riquexo she has travelled widely, teaching the finer points of Macanese food to chefs in China and Hong Kong, including the team at The Peninsula Hotel.
She says young people don’t know how to cook Macanese food. Bandeira agrees that most are not interested.
But that doesn’t mean visitors to a gaming destination now busier than Las Vegas and dominated by slick casino restaurants can’t still discover some great home-style cooking.
If you look hard enough, Old Macau and its food traditions survive in small, sequestered enclaves. Next door to Aida’s Riquexo is another unpretentious Macanese bolthole, Cantina da Apomac, offering well-priced meals for retired public servants, but just as popular with younger diners, who come here for the Portuguese chicken and suckling pig.
African chicken is one of Macau’s most famous dishes but it’s a recent addition to the culinary mix, having been introduced in the 1970s, says Bandeira.
His inference is that it’s not
Rua da Cunha, at the centre of Taipa Island, is a narrow but bustling street packed with shops and restaurants
Hugo Robarts Bandeira