Wandering the streets of Macao, recently named a UNESCO Creative City for Gastronomy, will reward you with sweet, savoury and surprising dining destinations, writes Christine Retschlag.
The Michelin Guide celebrates street eats as well as fine dining in this cultural melting pot
The aroma of incense pirouettes in my direction, tempting me to turn towards Macao’s Pak Tai Temple. I pause, snatch an intoxicating breath and utter a quick prayer to the Buddhist spirits, but it’s a feast I’m seeking on this particular day and I force myself to move on.
I amble through the cobbled streets of Taipa Village where I am both lost and found. Travellers say Rome is a great city to lose your bearings in, but Macao is a masterpiece.
I wander through a maze of lanes bearing Portuguese signage and rambling buildings painted in pink, green and Mediterranean blues. But I’m not in Europe, I’m in modern Asia, which has somehow taken 450 years of Portuguese history and married it with Chinese culture to create a feisty fusion of food experiences.
Taste Taipa’s street food I walk down one alleyway and spot a Portuguese establishment called Antonio’s on one side (the menu lists a potent Portuguese crab curry that makes my mouth water) and, on the other, a tapas restaurant (also run by Antonio) in a slim, two-storey building. I make a mental note to come back later.
But first, I have bigger fish to fry. I’m exploring Taipa Village in a quest to unearth its street food delights, guided by one of three walking tours recommended by the Taipa Village Cultural Association. I wander down another laneway punctuated with street art before finding myself in Cunha Street. At Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei, I’m handed a cup of sweet mango juice, which proves the perfect accompaniment to crispy pork chop buns, a Macanese specialty.
The savoury scent of this pork chop delicacy, which has been marinated and fried before being wedged into a bun, stalks me down the street.
While this one is good, I’ve heard there’s even better in town at Sun Ying Kei along Rua Da Alegria, earning it a spot in the 2017 edition of the Michelin Guide Hong Kong Macau.
A Michelin first In what critics are hailing a culinary coup, for the first time 12 Macao street food vendors were included in the Michelin guide. While technically not awarded Michelin stars, these street eats were regarded as being so fine that they were recommended in the Street Food category.
I mentally swill this information as I continue my culinary tour, distracted by the purple hues of Old Cherrykoff, a sweets store, where the owner actively encourages me to chew some nutty nougat.
Macao is arguably best known for its Portuguese egg tarts and I am delighted when I discover that Lord Stow’s Bakery, which I stumbled upon on a previous trip here a decade ago, is not only still in operation, but has made it into the Michelin Guide Street Food category.
These tarts have creamy custard centres, a pastry crust and a seared top. You’ll find them in charming Coloane.
Next up is new eatery DiGREEN (Diamond in Green), which serves icecream in charcoal cones and durian, coconut and mango-flavoured popsicles.
If I were brave enough to sample the much-debated durian, it would be at the Michelin Guide Street Food listing, LemonCello Gelato, in the vicinity of the baroque St Dominic’s Church, or at the Michelin-mentioned Gelatina Mok Yi Kei, sandwiched between the I Leng Temple and the Museum of Taipa & Coloane History.
There’s much food for thought, quite literally, on my journey around Macao, discovering its Michelin magic. Three Cantonese restaurants – Lai Heen, Ying and Pearl Dragon – earned one star for the first time and two Macanese establishments – the Chinese eatery Feng Wei Ju and Japanese restaurant Mizumi – scaled the ladder from one to two stars.
A grand total of 19 of Macao’s finedining restaurants were awarded Michelin stars in this respected tome.
Yee Shun Milk Company, which serves bowls of Chinese steamed milk puddings, has been included. Then there’s Fong Kei in Taipa, near Gelatina Mok Yi Kei, a pastry shop that adds pork to cookies, and Dai Gwan, near the picturesque Senado Square, whose black pepper buns are all the rage.
It would be easy to keep wandering Macao’s streets dining on Michelinrecommended street food, but there are some notable fine-dining restaurants worth visiting while you’re in town.
Located in the Grand Lisboa Hotel, The Eight is Macao’s first and only Chinese dining venue to be awarded three Michelin stars for four consecutive years. Ordering the chef-recommended Signature Dish Set Menu is a must; one of the standouts is the roasted pork belly with shredded jellyfish and caviar.
In the same hotel, you’ll also find the three-starred Robuchon au Dôme, the eponymous eatery of French chef and restaurateur Joël Robuchon. Don’t miss the seared rib eye Kagoshima beef with candele macaroni pasta and girolle mushroom.
Over at The Venetian Macao Resort, check out the one-star Golden Peacock’s traditional Indian cuisine, which has enjoyed its Michelin rating for four consecutive years.
My tour ends right back where it started, at Antonio’s, where I select the $22 tapas menu.
It features a gazpacho, just right for this humid day, followed by salty sardines and buttery potatoes. I finish with a crème brûlée. I wash all of this down with a requisite red, Portuguese of course, and on this fine food day, I feast like a Michelin maestro.
0704 Pearl Dragon offers a sophisticated fine-dining experience © Scott Brooks 05 A dish at Pearl Dragon 06 The ruins of St Paul’s, a 16th-century cathedral 07 Kashmiri rogan josh at The Golden Peacock © The Venetian Macao. Images 01, 04 and 06 © Studio City Macau/ Melco Resorts & Entertainment