Macau's food culture has long sat in the shadow of the all-conquering Cantonese across the water in Hong Kong. But while it's taken the arrival of high-end restaurants to put the city on the foodie map, for those who know Asian cuisine well Macau has long been an inviting destination. Unlike in most colonies where British, Dutch or French food added just a dash of flavor to local menus, Macau fused Southern Chinese and Portuguese ingredients and cooking together to create a new and unique cuisine called Macanese.
This form of Macau food seemed to be in terminal decline in the 1990s, but an increasing awareness of the city's culture and the arrival of some fantastic new Macanese restaurants reinvigorated the cooking. Today the city is booming with first-class cooking!
What is Macanese Cuisine?
Like Cantonese cuisine, Macanese cuisine is largely based on freshly-caught seafood, although the creatures from the deep on offer are slightly different. Codfish, crab, and sardines all feature on menus. It is, however, in the flavors that the Portuguese influence really shines through. Spices such as chili, saffron, and cinnamon, amongst others, feature heavily, and while Cantonese cooking relies heavily on freshness and simplicity, Macanese dishes are often baked or roasted for long periods to allow the flavor of the spices to come out. More exotic powders from Portugal's former colonies in Goa and Brazil also see coconut and turmeric are also thrown into dishes.
Chicken and pork are also popular, usually stewed or slow cooked until the meat is tender. The combinations are usually simple and large, relying on piles of meat often accompanied only with a side salad, but almost always stuffed with flavor. Desserts, arguably a weak link in the Cantonese armory, are also well represented in Macanese cuisine. Just try a Macau Egg Tart.
What Other Food Can I Get in Macau?
While Macanese might suggest it’s the national cuisine of Macau, the vast majority of restaurants are Cantonese and will rarely have Macanese dishes on their menu. If you want to try the real food of Macau, you’ll need to head to one of just a few dedicated Macanese restaurants in the city.
There are also some fantastic Portuguese restaurants in Macau that cook a more classic Portuguese menu. You'll find the best salted cod in Asia, wonderful combinations with chorizo and chicken done Piri-Piri style. Most of Macau's Portuguese restaurants tend to be upmarket, which means a wine list that's as good as anything you'll find in Lisboa.