When feast meets West

On the hunt for one of the world’s first fu­sion cuisines

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - CHRIS­TINE MC­CABE

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

MAGO-WORLD-IM­AGE

Rua da Cunha, at the cen­tre of Taipa Is­land, is a nar­row but bustling street packed with shops and restau­rants

CHRIS­TINE MC­CABE

Hugo Ro­barts Bandeira

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