Macau, also spelled Macao, is one of the truly great places to eat in East Asia. The three main cuisines are of course Cantonese, Macanese, and Portuguese, but just about every other world cuisine is well-represented in the city's restaurants. Needless to say, you can also find every regional variety and type of Chinese food.
First, a word about the Macanese. Before going to Macau, I'd always thought that the Macanese were biracial, which is to say mixed Chinese and Portuguese. It turns, however, that they are in fact a multi-racial people. The Portuguese brought people from all over their empire to their Pearl River stronghold, from African slaves to Malay beauties. In addition, many Japanese Christians, ie. Catholics, fled to Macau after the outlawing of Christianity in Japan in the 1630s. All of these people intermarried with the Chinese and Portuguese, eventually creating an extraordinarily rich and diverse creole culture. Their cuisine, of course, reflects that diversity and richness.
The wonderful Macao Museum has arranged a mouth-watering display of a traditional cha gordo (literally 'fat tea'), the equivalent of a high tea, to illustrate how a well-fed Macanese family in times gone by might have feasted on a Sunday. Next door is a recreated dining room to give you an idea of the decor that a cha gordo was consumed in. Sadly, I never found a place in Macau that offers a cha gordo, not even in the great casino hotels. If anyone knows where to find one, apart from in a private home, let me know!
The line between Macanese and Portuguese cuisine is not always neatly drawn, however. There are restaurants that do one or the other, but then are also those that do both.
One of my favourite Portuguese restaurants is the Café Flor Bela, which I was delighted to stumble on in northern Macau during a visit in 2014. I was staying around the corner at the IFT's Pousada de Mong Hà (about which I should write a post), and had simply started walking down Coronel Mesquita avenue looking for a place to eat. It was just after the lunch rush, so I had no trouble getting a table. I ordered the feijoada as soon as I spotted it on the menu. For those who might not know, feijoada is a stew of beans,chouriço, pork, and vegetables. Variations of it can be found all over the former Portuguese empire. The portion, pictured below, was enormous, but then Portuguese is the heartiest of the Latin cuisines.
Naturally, the house wines at Café Flor Bela are Portuguese. A nice touch is that you can order them by the glass, the carafe, or the bottle.
Another classic Portuguese dish I had at the Café Flor Bela (on a different day) was grilled bacalhau, or codfish. It's very simple, just cod, potatoes, onions, and garlic, but you need real Portuguese olive oil to make it work. Café Flor Bela's rendition, pictured below, is perfect.
If you happen to be in northern Macau in the neighbourhood of the Kun Iam Temple, look for this place!
Many of the territory's Portuguese restaurants are on the pricier end of the scale, particularly the ones located in the grander casinos and 5-star hotels. In addition to the Café Flor Bela, one of the more affordable Portuguese places is the Boa Mesa Macau Restaurante, which is conveniently located in a narrow alley between the São Domingos church and the cathedral square. My friends and I had the delicious Portuguese seafood and rice stew that is pictured below.
I don't remember the price, but I remember thinking that it was not expensive considering how much seafood it contained.
My ultimate favourite of the Portuguese restaurants in Macau that I've been to is Fernando's, which is located at Hac Sa beach on Coloane, Macau's southernmost island.
No visit to Macau feels complete without a trip to Fernando's for lunch or dinner. This Portuguese-owned place has long been a stalwart of the island dining scene and is a firm favourite of both Macau residents and visitors from Hong Kong. Everything on Fernando's menu is good, but in my opinion there are 2 must-order items: the Portuguese-style roast and the bacalhau a bras (also spelled bras). The former is pictured below. It's just chicken, but it's always perfectly cooked here. If you also order the bacalhau à bras (coming up below), a salad, and some appetizers, you and your party will be very well-fed. Needless to say, all the wine is Portuguese.
Warning: Fernando's is PACKED on weekends. Be prepared to spend some time in the pleasant outdoor bar area (see below) before getting a table.
Now, bacalhau à bras. I first had it at Fernando's, in fact. Sadly, I have no pictures of it. Later, I had it a restaurant near the São Franscisco church in the Coloane village at the southern tip of the territory.
The original recipe for bacalhau à bras calls only for shredded salt cod, onions, and matchsticked potato. It's held together by egg and garnished with black olives. That version, which is pictured below, was jazzed up with green pepper and chouriço. The cod wasn't shredded, either.
I'd say that this version fell on the Macanese rather than Portuguese side of the recipe. Never mind, though, it's good both ways!
Finally, dessert: egg tarts. You knew it was coming. You can't write about eating in Macau without mentioning egg tarts. They are of course a Portuguese legacy, one that has spread to neighbouring Hong Kong, too. In the lusophone countries, they're called pasteis de nata. I love them whatever they're called and wherever I find them. I bought and consumed the one pictured below -- and several others -- at Lord Stow's Bakery in Coloane village.
It's a long trek down there if you're on the peninsula, so another famous place to get some (be prepared to queue) is Margaret's Café. It's in a pedestrian alley near the Grand Lisboa Casino & Resort. I've heard that Margaret is Lord Stow's ex-wife. Can anyone confirm?
So that's it for my Portuguese/Macanese eating experiences in Macau. To read about my Chinese food experience there, please click on the link in the 'Related Articles' section at the bottom of this page.