Before we dive into the mouthwatering world of Macanese cuisine, a bit of world history is in order. The Portuguese arrived in Macau in 1577, and added the then-little fishing village to its vast empire. This annexation made Macau the Oldest Fusion City in the world – traditional dishes were blended with new recipes from the Portuguese soldiers. From this annexation was born a delectable marriage of the East and West flavors, and from it came generations of excellent Macanese cooking. Not only were these flavors from Portugal itself but since it was formerly an empire, other influences from places such as Malaysia or Goa were also brought over. It was truly a melting pot of culture and taste. Portuguese soldiers were understandably lonely for their native dishes (as would anyone if they were far from home), and many of them settled in Macau for the long haul. In order to comfort and accommodate the taste buds of their weary and lonely Portuguese husbands, their Chinese wives ultimately created what we now know as Macanese dishes.
Why is Macanese Cuisine Famous?
Aside from its status as a Portuguese colony for more than four centuries, when Macau was eventually returned to China, its western influences were by then so deeply ingrained into their culture and taste buds that it has developed a unique identity. Macanese food is a derivative of Chinese and Portuguese food that has evolved through many generations of intermarriages between Portuguese and Chinese people. One of their most celebrated food (and the unofficial national dish) is the minchi – a ground meat dish, stir-fried with Chinese flavors and served with cubed fried potatoes or rice. It is a delicious and hearty meal that would satisfy Western and Eastern palates alike. Macanese food appeals to more people, and not just those from Macau because a little bit of home is present in every bite of the dish – whether you come from the East, or the West.
The Future of Macanese Cuisine
Most people, when they visit Macau, automatically think of Portuguese food. For example, the Nata or the Natas is inspired by the Portuguese egg tart called Pasteis de Nata and is typically served with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a cup of coffee. For meat lovers, there is also a Portuguese suckling pig dish called the Leitão à Bairrada that would be a perfect feast food. You can experience Portugal through these Asian dishes; however, these are not fusion dishes. Fusion dishes are borne out of the necessity of using local ingredients to substitute for foreign ingredients in order to recreate an unfamiliar dish. This is what Chinese wives were attempting to make for their beloved, homesick Portuguese husbands, but instead, they created not just a copy of a foreign cuisine but something uniquely new. This would be an invaluable traditional discovery for the Macau people and would earn them the honor of being the world’s oldest fusion cuisine.
Macau today is not just about fusion food, but also represents other international food. You can find pretty much anything in Macau restaurants, from Japanese cuisine to Italian restaurants – all of which have Michelin-starred chefs. From the simplest congee or noodle dishes to the most elaborated international food, the breadth and width of available cuisines in Macau will take your breath away. Macau food is comparatively cheap as opposed to other fusion cities out there. This is why many visitors have become patrons of Macanese food or restaurants in Macau. To add to that, many of these eateries are housed in casino complexes and serve as a complementary service to the casino’s guests and patrons. After an exciting gambling round in the casino, you can take your winnings and have a delicious meal afterward without even leaving the building.
Macau, due to its strategic location, is one of the most accessible places in Asia. Where international flights are often restricted or unavailable in Southeast Asia, Macau has its own international airport. You can fly in from the Philippines and go to any part of mainland China, Taiwan, Malaysia, or wherever your heart desires. This regional travel hub status of Macau has helped in its development, especially for its tourism. Although its population is only at 600,000, Macau has developed rapidly. It has become one of the jewels in Asia, and in fact, in 2005, it was awarded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to protect the many Portuguese and Chinese monuments scattered around the city.
Macau is a lovely and quaint place to visit – only an hour away via ferry from Hong Kong or 45 minutes via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. It has a beautiful atmosphere of old-world Portuguese with its pastel buildings, modern Star Wars-like casino buildings, and an echo from the past with the fishing village of Coloane. Looking around Macau, you would be reminded of how far Little Macau has come to be.
The next time you are in Macau, try a little bit of everything! Curious about Macanese food? Experience authentic Macanese fusion food at the Macau Military Club, APOMAC-the Civil Servants Retirement Club and Restaurante Litoral.
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