MACAU | Recently I found myself in Macao as part of a week long trip to Hong Kong and Macau courtesy of Cathay Pacific. While my travel companions and I were in Macau, we were very kindly hosted by Macau Tourism. Due to its Portuguese roots, more recent Chinese influence and the prevalence of tourists resulting from the gaming industry, food in Macau covers a range of cuisines and styles. In this Macau Food Guide I’ve provided an overview of main categories of food available in Macau that visitors should aim to try. If you’re interested in finding out more about the food in Hong Kong, you can check out The City Lane’s Hong Kong Food Guide.
Not surprisingly, one of the major cuisines available in Macau is Portuguese, reflecting Macau’s history as a Portuguese colony. On our first night in Macau we were taken to one of the most famous Portuguese restaurants in the city, Antonio. Owned and still run by head chef Antonio Coelho, the Michelin-awarded Antonio serves authentic Portuguese food in an intimate space where it is not uncommon to see Antonio himself cooking your food in front of you at your table.
Portugal is a country with an extensive coastline a large fishing industry and as a result seafood is a key element of Portuguese cooking. Typical of this was one of the very first dishes we had which was clams cooked in a white wine and garlic sauce. This dish has excellent flavours despite the simple ingredients and the sauce at the bottom of the serving pot is great when mopped up with the bread that’s provided on the side.
Another simple yet effective dish is the steamed prawns with fresh chillies which were cooked perfectly when served to us. There’s a skewed effort to reward ratio when eating shellfish but it’s worth it. When the staff noticed that I was eating the chillies I was also provided with piri piri sauce to add some extra kick which was much appreciated.
The last seafood-based dish that we tried was seafood rice, which is was served with scallops, prawns and mussels. This dish is essentially the Portuguese take on the Spanish paella, with more liquid and an infusion of piri piri sauce to provide a good amount of spice. As a result, the the broth has excellent flavour which transfers across to the rice and seafood as well.
As well as seafood, we were served a number of very tasty meat dishes as well. The first was a Portuguese sausage which was grilled at our table by Antonio over a brandy-driven flame. Unlike many sausages this one is very ‘meaty’ with no other filler and good texture. It’s a little on the salty side, however the grilling process gives it a good char and smoky flavour on the outside.
Probably my favourite dish of the meal was the suckling pig which Antonio imports from Portugal and then roasts to perfection. The meat from this suckling pig is ‘fall apart’ tender, unlike Chinese suckling pigs which tend to have firmer flesh. Its also a little saltier than the Chinese style suckling pig but it ‘does however have the same delicate crispy skin as its Chinese counterpart.
Rua dos Clerigos No. 7
Old Taipa Village, Taipa
Macanese food is arguably the world’s first ever fusion cuisine, combining flavours and techniques from the wide range of cultures who have settled in Macau over the years. Macanese food blends together elements of Portuguese, Indian, Malay, Chinese and African food. Macanese food essentially emerged from the various nationalities who migrated to Macau over time preparing recipes from their home countries but with local ingredients.
For our Macanese food experience we visited Restaurante Litoral, which is located in the ‘old quarter’ area of Macau. To start we were served small Indian-style beef samosas and shrimp cakes which reminded me of those you might find in a Thai restaurant.
The next dish that we had was Caldo Verde (literally ‘green soup’) which is a simple Portuguese-inspired soup of chicken broth, olive oil and kale. Consistent with Portuguese cooking more generally this dish is simple but very flavoursome and is definitely enhanced by the liberal addition of even more olive oil.
The ‘devil prawn’ is another Portugese-themed dish – a king prawn stuffed with garlic and spices and served in the shell. Never fear, despite the ‘devil’ in the name the spices create a rich and complex flavour without being ‘spicy hot’.
The highlight of the meal for me was the ‘African chicken’ which is a spiced barbecue chicken served with potatoes on the side. Other than the chicken itself which is juicy full of flavour, the aspect that really makes this dish is the thick sauce that is heaped on top of the meat. The version at Litoral is made primarily from red bell peppers, grated coconut and peanut butter.
As is the case with most Asian countries, street food is abundant in Macau and is a staple for the locals. Just like the Macanese food you can fin at restaurants, Macau’s street food is derived from a number of different origins.
Given the proximity of Macau to Hong Kong, it should came as no surprise that roast barbecue stalls such as this one are in abundance offering the full gamut of meats – check out our Hong Kong Food Guide for more information about this type of food.
Another food that is very prevalent in Macau is durian, the so-called ‘king of fruits’ which is commonly found in South-East Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and is characterised by its very strong smell. The smell is so strong in fact that most hotels explicitly ban durians from being taken into guest rooms. Looking like something that you would weaponise and throw at your enemies rather than eat, the durian is on of those things that you should probably try once. It’s definitely an acquired taste (which I have not yet acquired).
One of the most common street snacks in Macau is the pork chop bun. Served in a soft roll bone and all, the pork chop is marinated overnight in red wine, garlic and onion and then grilled. The bone is a little inconvenient but the taste is excellent and this makes a great snack while you are on the go.
Another pork-based snack that you can find in a number of places is pork jerky, which is also commonly found in both Hong Kong and Singapore. This is essentially flat sheets of dried pork from different parts of the pig, prepared with different flavourings including bone, garlic and pepper. Other meats are available as well including beef. While this is still good cold, I recommend trying to score some warm and ‘fresh off the press’ so that it just melts in the mouth.
Also very popular in Macau are various types of skewers dipped in a chilli sauce – the items being skewered below included fish balls, beef balls, unidentified seafood, and tofu…
… and also a sour pig ear, which is quite tasty once you get past the rubbery texture. Thanks to Dom from Citizens of the World for posing for this photo.
Last but not least, one of, if not THE ‘must eat’ foods in Macau is the Portuguese-style egg tart, which is actually quite different from the Cantonese ‘dan taat’. It uses a smoother custard and thinner pasty so even if you have had something like this at yum cha you should definitely try these in Macau. Like the traditional Portuguese tart, the Macanese version is filled with a smooth egg custard and made with delicate flaky pastry and is slightly caramelised on top. The main difference is that the egg custard filling is a bit lighter and less sweet which I actually quite like and means that you can eat several (which you should) without feeling overwhelmed by the flavours.
This one was from a street stall but if you can only have one you have you try the original (and some would say the best) at Lord Stow’s Bakery.
Lord Stow’s Bakery
1 Rua do Tassara
Chinese food is another cuisine that’s very prevalent in Macau, which should be no surprise given that the population is around 95% Chinese. As was the case in Hong Kong, I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that the hotel that we were staying in, the Sheraton Macao (incidentally the largest Sheraton in the world), contained an excellent Chinese restaurant, Xin.
Our first course at Xin was traditional Cantonese-style dim sum with a Macanese twist applied by head chef Wee Chee Kiang. My favourites were his versions of pork siu mai and prawn har cao.
This was then followed by pork two ways, roasted with crispy skin and barbecued with a sweet glaze. Xin uses Iberian pigs, some would say the finest pork in the world, which combined with excellent cooking technique results in meat that is both amazingly flavoursome and very tender. The barbecue pork was one of favourite dishes from my trip to Macau and really reminded me of the sort of food I ate as a kid – almost (but not quite) as good as my mother’s version of the same dish!
Xin’s speciality is Chinese-style hotpot which is a ‘DIY-style’ meal which involves cooking an array of bite-sized items in boiling flavoured broth on your table. Unlike most hotpot places where there is a communal hotpot in the middle of the table and ingredients are ordered by weight, Xin offers an all-you-can-eat experience and an individual hotpot which enables each diner to customise his/her experience to taste and appetite.
The starting point is to head to the buffet (don’t be scared of that word here) to collect a plate of ingredients which include noodles, fish and meat balls, tofu, cheese, vegetables, seafood and various sliced meat (pork, beef or lamb) and also a type of broth. There are a range of broth options ranging from a standard pork-based soup up to a hot and spicy chilli oil and sichuan peppercorn soup (which of course is what I chose). The all you can eat approach taken by Xin means that it can be very easy to go overboard on your first plate and be too full too soon – I recommend taking a more measured approach to make sure that you can try all of the different ingredients on offer.
You then gradually add ingredients to the boiling soup, taking account of the amount of time it will take various ingredients to cook (denser items like the cheese balls and prawns first, thin sliced meat last), and wait until they are suitably cooked and have absorbed the flavours of the broth. The spicy broth is excellent, having a good amount of kick but not overpowering the flavours of the ingredients. It infuses really well into ingredients like the tofu and also the sliced meat.
For those with slightly less tolerance for spicy food there is also a nyonya laksa soup on offer. The Xin version is still flavoursome but lacks the ‘fire’ of the chilli oil and numbing after effect of the Sichuan peppercorn.
Xin (at Sheraton Macao)
Estrada do Istmo. s/n
I hope you enjoyed reading through this food guide to Macau and that this has given you some ideas for your food adventures in Macau. If you want to visit Macau and haven’t yet booked your transportation, we highly recommend using Cathay Pacific to search for flights to Hong Kong. From Hong Kong International Airport you can transfer directly to the Turbojet ferry to Macau which takes about an hour – you don’t even need to collect your luggage which will be transferred directly to the ferry and you will clear customs in Macau.
If you’re from Macau or have visited we’d love to hear any Macau food recommendations that you have in the comments below.