I love to eat my way through Macau, a special administrative region of China that’s an easy hour on a high speed ferry from Hong Kong. While it’s famous for casino revenues crushing those of Las Vegas, Macau’s history as a former Portuguese colony and important port during the spice trade resulted in an awesome cuisine entirely its own.
My most recent trip to Macau was with my 6-year-old (yes, there are plenty of things to do in Macau with kids) so many of these food photos are from family-friendly, non-gaming Four Seasons Macao Cotai Strip, where we crashed after a long day of touring. But, I lived in Hong Kong for five years and have eaten all over Taipa and the peninsula during a number of other trips. I know what I’m talking about.
Features of Macanese Cuisine
Macanese cuisine is suspected to have evolved as different styles of cooking became infused into traditional Portuguese cooking. Wives of Portuguese sailors based in Macau attempted to replicate European dishes using local ingredients and spices from Africa, India and the coast of Malacca that became available as ships passed through the port. And then, of course, Chinese cooking techniques because integrated into these dishes as well.
You’ll find ingredients like coconut milk, cloves, turmeric and cinnamon and a lot of baking, grilling and roasting. Baking isn’t a common feature you’ll find in Chinese cuisine outside of Macau. Scrap the diet for a few days as the food is incredibly hearty and flavorful. Here’s what you’ll want to eat in Macau.
1. Portuguese Egg Tarts
Whatever you do in Macau, for the love of all things holy, eat some egg tarts. You can find them almost everywhere (they were even options for breakfast at the Four Season Hotel Macau Cotai Strip buffet) but Lord Stow’s is probably the most famous for its warm, buttery crust and satin egg filling. They have outlets in Coloane and even inside the Venetian. I’ve heard that Margaret’s Cafe on the peninsula near Senado Square rivals Lord Stow’s.
2. Pork Chop Buns
Though it’s widely regarded as a snack, I argue you could make a pork chop bun a meal. A fried boneless pork chop rests inside a tasty white bun. Not like a hamburger bun, but a soft roll that soaks up grease quite nicely. There’s no lettuce or anything frilly inside. Try one at Tai Lei Lok Kei. You’ll probably wait in line, but it will be worth it.
3. Macanese Sawdust Pudding or Serradura Pudding
Otherwise known as Macanese sawdust pudding, this is one of my favorite desserts on the planet. Though there are only a handful of ingredients and it’s easy to make—serradura is not the same outside of Macau. Most recipes call for whipped cream and condensed milk layered between crushed tea biscuits.
Minchi or Minchee is a Macanese dish with ground beef or pork seasoned with soy sauce and molasses. It’s often served with rice a fried egg on top and considered Macau’s national dish.
5. Caldo Verde
Finally, a lighter option! This Portuguese soup features potatoes, collard greens or kale, onion, olive oil and perhaps a meat like ham hock. There’s usually a bread or corn bread for dipping. It’s delicious paired with Vinho Verde (Portuguese white wine) but I suppose everything on this list is in reality.
6. African Chicken
Because it’s usually coated with piri piri, an African bird’s eye chili sauce, it’s often referred to as piri piri chicken. The chicken is usually butterflied, marinated and slow-roasted over coals. It’s both incredibly tender and flavorful. I ate it in a wrap, but have had it over rice and all sorts of ways. It’s delish.
While resembles jerky, bakkwa is a salty-sweet dried meat that is considered a delicacy in some parts of China. It’s a little softer than jerky due to having a higher moisture content but you can find it all over the snack streets of Macau. It’s pretty tasty and you may sample before you buy.
Balcalhau refers to salted cod in Macau and you’re bound to run into it when dining at a restaurant serving Macanese or Portuguese cuisine. The balcalhau balls at Fernando’s are a must order and I hear they’re also fantastic at O Santos (try the octopus salad)—both are very well-loved restaurants in Macau. But, you can eat balcalhau grilled and in other ways, too.
9. Almond Cookies
People the know take almond cookies (some people call them almond cakes, but I think they’re more like cookies) from the likes of Koi Kei bakery home as souvenirs. In fact, people carry them on to the plane and ferry by the bagful. Koi Kei has branches all over Macau but they also have delicious peanut candy, pineapple cake and hundreds of other snacks to choose from. The Rua do Cunha location, at least, has someone outside the shop preparing the cakes which is fun to watch.
While we’re talking about cookies, it’s worth mentioning that Chinese desserts (with the exception of the serradura pudding) aren’t nearly as sweet as American desserts.
10. Portuguese Wine
OK, while not necessarily something you eat, take advantage of the availability of really good Portuguese wine in Macau. And, when I say really good, that doesn’t mean expensive. Portuguese wines blend a number of grape varietals together, which means they have unique flavors and complex tastes.
Do Visit a Snack Street
Rua de S. Paulo, Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro (popularly-known as ”˜San Ma Lo’), Rua da Felicidade, Travessa do Auto Novo near Senado Square and Rua do Cunha in Taipa Village are popular snack streets. The latter two are my favorites just because I seem to be passing through them while sightseeing. Snack streets are where you’ll find pork chop buns, egg tarts, bakkwa, almond cakes and the like.