Each morning in a densely populated neighborhood of Macao, stallholders in the Red Market prepare for an inevitable rush of shoppers.
It’s here in this iconic wet market that chefs rub shoulders with locals buying fresh produce for the kitchens.
Their eagerness to find the perfect buy leads them through three stories in the historic red-bricked complex, from the colorful display of flowers, Chinese and European vegetables, and fruit on the ground floor to the live, regularly replenished seafood on the first floor. Take the stairs to the top floor and a huge range of meats are also there to be bought for the tables of Macao.
“My business is spread across a number of the stalls, so I’m not seen to be favoring anyone,” says chef Antonio Coelho, whose multi-award-winning Portuguese restaurant, Antonio’s, is a drawcard in Taipa Village. “They all sell good produce, so I’m loyal to everyone with freshness in mind. Freshness in Macao is as important as quality; very important.”
Since it opened in 1936, the marketplace has been an institution on the Macao peninsula, the ingredients making for some tantalizing Macanese dishes such as African chicken and Minchi, to mention just two.
There is a sense within the community that if Macao is to move forward on the Great Green Food Journey, then the 80-plus-year-old Red Market should remain a feature.
Fine cuisine begins at the source, and the approach to shopping taken by people like Coelho is what makes Macao special. Pride and passion are key to creating Macao’s unique fare, and so it’s little wonder the Portuguese-born-and-bred Antonio decided to make the former Portuguese territory his home.
Macao’s fascinating mix of Chinese and European cuisine spans across five centuries, long before the Red Market was built. Those traditions are noticeable wherever you explore. And there’s a desire to keep these traditions going in the future.
From the tiny eateries sharing the same neighborhoods as the temples and churches, to the restaurants serving Chinese food in polished European-style venues, there’s no doubting Macao’s uniqueness in this corner of China.
The fact that it continues to create and dish out one of the world’s earliest forms of fusion cuisine places it in a special spot in Asia. And it’s a combination that ultimately led to Macao’s inclusion on the elite list of UNESCO’s Creative Cities of Gastronomy.
Such is the importance of food to Macao’s future tourism, it has become a prime feature at annual events including the spectacular Light Festival and International Film Festival and Awards.
In Macao’s quaint Taipa Village, work is also well underway to transform what were abandoned derelict buildings into lovingly converted art galleries, trendy cafes and casual restaurants.
The same gentrification is taking place on the peninsula where a timeworn building has been converted into the Old House Bakery.
It is here that the owner makes an artisanal bread which rekindles her youth in Macao.
She, like others in the neighborhood, has set her sights on past pleasures and successes to create her future.
To retain Macao’s position on the prized UNESCO Creative City listing, and to further strengthen its stance on sustainability for future generations, Macao is looking at all kinds of remedies for solving what is a worldwide problem - food waste.
Dr Cheng Wai Tong, deputy director of the Macao Government Tourism Office, says as a starting point to sustainability, the city aims to learn more about the waste created in the transport, production, and consumption of its food.
His position supervising the city’s destination marketing as well as the training and quality management departments place him in a good position to monitor waste levels and act on calls to avoid unnecessary waste.
It’s estimated that 1.3 billion tons of food produced for human consumption every year are wasted. But the chefs, kitchen hands, and the growing number of hotel and resort managers in Macao are doing their best to end the flow of waste.
Sands China is looking to kick a few goals in the war against plastic by banning single-use plastics in its array of restaurants throughout such resorts as The Venetian and The Parisian. Management has brought an end to the use of plastic straws, which was estimated at 2.2 million a year in its properties alone.
“Placed end-to-end on the newly opened Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, that’s enough to stretch from Macao to Hong Kong 10 times,” says Mark McWhinnie, senior vice-president of resort operations for Sands China.
It’s a sizeable task that Macao has taken on with all the enthusiasm of a center eager to continue the Great Green Food Journey.
To succeed in meeting the challenge, Macao will need to bring about local awareness and support the development of the local catering industries. In other words – education.
As for the survival of historic Macanese cuisine, local chef Palmira Pena (whose family owns two restaurants in Taipa Village – Ó Manel and Lobster King), wants to see more recipes passed on from one generation to another and to spread the news of these fabulous dishes far beyond Macao.
And she says that should begin in Macao, perhaps when the chefs and locals converge on the Red Market for their next fresh purchase.
If you venture to Macao’s Taipa Village, it’s worth checking out Ó Manel, a Portuguese restaurant owned by the Penas; chef Manuel and his Macao-born chef daughter Palmira. Ó Manel is typically Portuguese. Its whitewashed walls are decked with images of Portuguese football teams. Because of its boutique style measurements, you will need to book before heading there. And the food lives up the restaurant’s reputation as a popular experience in the village.
In true Portuguese style, a charcoal grill is used in preparing the grilled delights, with codfish a favorite. Otherwise, dig into the clams with lemon sauce, prawns in garlic and a delicious array of Portuguese desserts.
CAFÉ NGA TIM
Ideally located on the corner of a square in Coloane Village, close to the quaint Francis Xavier Chapel, this café specializes in affordable traditional Chinese and Portuguese cuisine. The owner often plays the guitar and serenades his casual alfresco dining guests.
Despite the variety of traditional dishes on offer, a must have is the drunken prawns. You’ll be bowled over by the taste. After swimming in a bowl of white wine, the prawns are steamed and presented, to be de-shelled by hand. It’s a finger licking, tasty experience.
LONG WA TEA HOUSE
As one of a handful of surviving traditional tea houses in Macao, Long Wa will take you back to a time where men would meet for dim sum while on a walk with their caged birds. You can imagine what it was like as the birds would sing to each other as the guests sipped on their tea and socialized.
The Cantonese-style dim sum is as colorful as the décor, the neighboring Red Market within view through the windows. Once diners have selected their tea, they can prepare to dine on delicacies such as steamed dumplings with pork or mushrooms, steamed meatballs, chicken feet, and pork ribs.
HANG HEONG UN
The 40 different eateries lining Broadway Food Street within the Galaxy precinct in the Cotai area will have you hunting down flavors aplenty. Many of the restaurants thrive on presenting traditional fare. Among them, you’ll find Hang Heong Un, famous for an old family cooking method dating back several decades.
Among the restaurant’s popular signature dishes is the delicious almond soup with egg yolk. There’s also a coconut juice mixed with almond and walnut soup. Highly favored by locals are the Zhaoqing rice dumplings, traditionally eaten during Dragon Boat festivals.
Discover more about what makes Macao a UNESCO City of Gastronomy and a culinary destination on The Great Green Food Journey: Macao.