THE EX­OTIC FLA­VORS OF MA­CAO

Vis­i­tors to Ma­cao will be re­warded with a rus­tic, mouth-wa­ter­ing cui­sine that en­cap­su­lates the ter­ri­tory’s unique his­tory as a bea­con of cul­tural ex­change be­tween East and West.

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THERE’S A POR­TUGUESE TERM

— saudade— that de­scribes a deep, wist­ful long­ing; a sense of in­com­plete­ness; and a nostal­gia for some­thing that will never be the same. In the colo­nial out­posts of Goa, Melaka, and Ma­cao, 16th- and 17th­cen­tury Por­tuguese res­i­dents must have ex­pe­ri­enced saudade for their home­land, their fam­ily mem­bers, and the women they left be­hind. The Euro­pean set­tlers mar­ried lo­cal wives, a re­sponse to poli­cies that barred Por­tuguese women from trav­el­ing over­seas and set­tling in the colonies.

Long be­fore fu­sion food be­came a pop­u­lar phe­nom­e­non, Ma­canese home cooks were fus­ing the in­gre­di­ents of China, In­dia, and South­east Asia with Euro­pean cook­ing tech­niques. Ini­tially this arose out of ne­ces­sity, as an at­tempt to recre­ate Por­tuguese dishes with what was lo­cally avail­able: co­conut milk was sub­sti­tuted for dairy prod­ucts such as cream and but­ter, sweet Chinese sausage for Por­tuguese

chouriço. Over time this hy­brid cui­sine ac­quired its own iden­tity and flair, with recipes passed down through gen­er­a­tions of Ma­canese women.

But sur­pris­ingly few places in Ma­cao to­day are dedicated to this cen­turies-old culi­nary tradition. Just a short stroll from the Mar­itime Mu­seum and A-Ma Tem­ple on Rua do Almi­rante Sér­gio, there’s one such place whose name in Por­tuguese means “fac­ing the sea,” a re­minder of its prox­im­ity to the spot where the 16th­cen­tury nav­i­ga­tors first landed in Ma­cao.

This restau­rant is the brain­child of Manuela Silva Fer­reira, an ac­com­plished cook who set out to pre­serve her fam­ily recipes and show­case Ma­canese cui­sine to the world with its launch in 1995. Such was the venue’s pop­u­lar­ity that it had to ex­pand up­stairs and into the neigh­bor­ing build­ing less than six months later. The menu here opens with mouth-wa­ter­ing ap­pe­tiz­ers such as casquinha, crab meat mixed with mushrooms and cheese, lib­er­ally coated in bread­crumbs and then baked in the shell.

Many vis­i­tors come for Fer­reira’s take on gal­inha à africana— bet­ter known as African chicken—a sta­ple of restau­rants all over Ma­cao. Cre­ated in the 1940s by a ho­tel chef named Americo An­gelo, it’s a rel­a­tively re­cent ad­di­tion to the lo­cal cui­sine and a nod to frango grel­hado piri

piri, a spicy grilled chicken dish na­tive to An­gola and Mozam­bique. African chicken re­flects the mar­itime trade routes once plied by the en­ter­pris­ing Por­tuguese, with fla­vors span­ning three con­ti­nents and both sides of the In­dian Ocean. An­gelo passed on with­out di­vulging his se­cret recipe, but it’s gen­er­ally un­der­stood that African piri-piri (a.k.a. malagueta) chilies, smoked pa­prika, and Chinese five-spice pow­der

AFRICAN CHICKEN—A STA­PLE OF RESTAU­RANTS IN MA­CAO—RE­FLECTS THE MAR­ITIME TRADE ROUTES ONCE PLIED BY THE POR­TUGUESE.

are es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ents, with some chefs adding ground peanuts and co­conut milk to the mix.

On the menu, gal­inha à africana is clearly some­thing to share: it com­prises half a chicken, roasted with a richly tex­tured sauce that yields diced onions and tomato, faint traces of co­conut, and the taste of olive oil and white wine. Served along­side thick potato slices that are baked to per­fec­tion, the dish comes gar­nished with black olives, while sliced pick­les add a touch of sweet­ness and ex­tra crunch to the chicken. Each bite yields an en­tic­ing burst of fla­vors.

Baked duck rice, an­other crowd­pleas­ing fa­vorite, is topped with chouriço and ba­con, which are first browned in duck fat be­fore be­ing cooked in duck broth. Be­neath a golden-brown crust of rice sprin­kled with parme­san, spoon­fuls of sautéed, shred­ded duck emerge from the bot­tom of the earth­en­ware bak­ing dish.

Don’t leave with­out try­ing the stewed tamarind pork, a quin­tes­sen­tial Ma­canese en­trée cooked with shrimp paste known as balichão. The sauce is a riot of umami, sour, and spicy fla­vors laden with a sweet un­der­tone, thanks to the ad­di­tion of brown sugar that also gives it a gritty mouth feel. Ma­canese balichão takes its bold char­ac­ter from a blend of dried shrimp, brandy, salt and pep­per, bay leaf, and chilies. Made well, the sauce can be stored for months with­out re­frig­er­a­tion, and would have sur­vived the voy­age from China to In­dia— where it was adapted into Goan balchão.

A few doors down, an­other restau­rant pays homage to Ma­cao’s mer­can­tile past with a nau­ti­cal theme. The name refers to a hy­brid sail­ing ves­sel that once plied the wa­ters of the South China Sea and mar­itime South­east Asia, com­bin­ing the rig of a Chinese junk with a Por­tugue­ses­tyle hull. Wooden el­e­ments in the decor re­call its name­sake trad­ing ves­sel and the row of ar­cades are in­spired by Avenida Almeida Ribeiro, the much-pho­tographed pedes­trian street lead­ing from Largo do Se­nado, the penin­sula’s old town square.

The beef samosas here are a rev­e­la­tion. Wrapped in a per­fectly crisp outer layer of pas­try, the fill­ing is a bal­ance of silken onion strands and minced meat, yield­ing a com­plex fla­vor that peaks with the lin­ger­ing af­ter­taste of clove. Seafood en­thu­si­asts should opt for the suc­cu­lent and well-spiced king prawn curry, tinged with ground pep­per­corns and the un­mis­tak­able heat of chili.

An­other stand­out is the hearty Por­tuguese-style fried rice or ar­roz chau

chau, with prawns, olives, unc­tu­ous pieces of chouriço, and diced cap­sicum pep­pers tossed in for good mea­sure. The owner Adri­ano Neves prides him­self on us­ing fresh in­gre­di­ents bought at lo­cal mar­kets, pro­vid­ing a thor­oughly Ma­canese take on Por­tuguese clas­sics. Two pop­u­lar items are the mixed seafood rice—a soupy en­sem­ble stewed with crab, shelled prawns and mus­sels in a Can­tonese-style clay pot—and pork knuckle fei­joada.

Also of note is a spe­cialty that has be­come a sta­ple of in­for­mal eater­ies even in neigh­bor­ing Hong Kong: the cu­ri­ously named Por­tuguese chicken, though you’d be hard pressed to find such an en­trée in the kitchens of Lis­bon. Its thick gravy is made from a mild blend of co­conut milk, turmeric, and curry pow­der, giv­ing it a taste pro­file that is near-iden­ti­cal to the Goan dish cald­inha.

If you’re aim­ing to go off the beaten

path, head to a no-frills can­teen tucked down an al­ley­way in a largely res­i­den­tial area be­low the north­west­ern flanks of Guia Hill. At the age of 101, its founder Aida de Je­sus still keeps a watch­ful eye at this lo­cal in­sti­tu­tion that’s now owned by daugh­ter Sonia Palmer and her hus­band. Some pa­trons are loyal reg­u­lars who have come day af­ter day for the past three decades, drawn by the true-blue Ma­canese food at its most un­fussy form. Cus­tomers can ex­pect to see deftly grilled sar­dines and

minchi, a med­ley of stir-fried minced pork and diced potatoes cooked in soy sauce and mo­lasses, plated up with a gen­er­ous heap of rice. Opt to dine al­fresco or eat in­doors, be­side tiled walls adorned with old pho­tos that re­call a by­gone era when Ma­cao was not yet the flam­boy­ant Ve­gas of the East.

For at­mo­spheric sur­rounds, the dig­ni­fied pri­vate club of a for­mer mil­i­tary com­pound is hard to beat. Sit­u­ated on the old wa­ter­front of Praia Grande in a grace­ful, pas­tel pink struc­ture from 1870, its high ceil­ings and lou­vered win­dows are a throw­back to colo­nial times, while the airy restau­rant is open to the general pub­lic for late lunch (from 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m.) and din­ner. Ma­cao res­i­dents will tell you that this el­e­gant venue serves up the best Por­tuguese food in town, with its var­i­ous it­er­a­tions of ba­cal­hau (cod­fish) be­ing the main draw. But even here, African chicken and baked duck rice make an ap­pear­ance on the menu, as does cur­ried Ma­canese prawns and other seafood.

Off the penin­sula, vis­i­tors stay­ing in Cotai need not ven­ture far from their ho­tels for a taste of the Ma­canese kitchen. The ground floor of the Galaxy Ma­cao com­plex is home to a modern yet nostal­gic Por­tuguese restau­rant with vaulted ceil­ings and rus­tic table­ware that caters to fam­i­lies. The menu here of­fers a se­lec­tion of Ma­canese de­lights, in­clud­ing African chicken in a mildly spicy peanut-based sauce, tamarind duck, and its sig­na­ture curry crab. Pa­trons can share an as­sort­ment of Ma­canese-style tapas served on a wooden board, rang­ing from crumbed prawns with chili sauce to a salad fea­tur­ing cit­rus fruit and lemon­grass vinai­grette. These dishes were fine-tuned by culi­nary con­sul­tant Chan Yok Kong, a chef of Can­tonese an­ces­try with more than 40 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence pre­par­ing Ma­canese cui­sine. Chan be­gan his ca­reer at the ten­der age of 13, when he worked along­side his fa­ther at a for­mer mil­i­tary base in Coloane.

And if a more in­ti­mate set­ting is what you’re af­ter, the restau­rants of Taipa Vil­lage are close at hand. Come the colder months, some places might even of­fer

tacho, the lo­cal ver­sion of the Por­tuguese win­ter casse­role co­zido. A ver­i­ta­ble feast of cab­bage, ham hocks, pork chop, trot­ters, Can­tonese cured pork belly and lap cheong sausage, it’s served with steamed rice and that most Ma­canese of sauces, pun­gent and ad­dic­tive balichão. Tacho may not be the pret­ti­est of dishes, but it’s a mi­cro­cosm of Ma­canese cui­sine, blend­ing an un­likely as­sort­ment of Euro­pean and Asian el­e­ments into a deeply sat­is­fy­ing whole.

MA­CANESE BALICHÃO TAKES ITS CHAR­AC­TER FROM A HEADY BLEND OF DRIED SHRIMP, BRANDY, SALT AND PEP­PER, BAY LEAF, AND CHILIES.

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