If ever a region took great pride in its food, it’s Macao. It’s something the former Portuguese colony on the Pearl River Delta has been doing for more than four centuries and will continue to do with a passion.
Stroll through the mazes of cobblestoned streets and narrow lanes which criss-cross the densely populated peninsula and you can prepare for a heady mix of aromas, redolent of cuisines passed down by generations of families.
Step inside the bustling Red Market any day during the week and you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders with families, and jostling with restaurant chefs buying the very best ingredients for their meals. Here begins the great green food journey - from farm, river and ocean to plate - in a city that thrives and prides itself on fine feasting.
It’s little wonder the former Portuguese enclave, now a special administrative zone, is billed the City of Gastronomy – there are mouth-watering dishes for all tastes and budgets.
A unique fusion
Due to Macao’s proximity to Mainland China’s Guangdong province (Canton), a vast majority of meals are of Cantonese style, yet Portuguese is distinctly prominent, which has blessed the region with a fusion cuisine uniquely known as Macanese.
In contrast, across three serpent-like bridges which link the peninsula with the Macao – or as some prefer Macau - island of Taipa, the sprouting neon-lit resorts and hotels have resulted in a contemporary range of dining options, from authentic French and Italian cuisines to amalgamation dishes with an Asian and South American twist.
Whether the choice is to eat out on freshly steamed dumplings from a tiny hole-in-the-wall near Senado Square, to tuck into dim sum in a traditional teahouse near the Three Lamps District or to dine on international fare in a Michelin star hotel restaurant, Macao – 60 kms from Hong Kong in the heart of the Pearl River Delta (now known as the Greater Bay Area) - offers a fascinating potpourri of tastes and aromas.
It’s for this reason and the fact Macanese is recognized as of the world’s earliest forms of fusion cuisine that Macao has been added to the elite list of UNESCO Creative Cities for Gastronomy.
What makes Macanese cuisine different from the traditional Portuguese fare is interesting. The introduction of spices and other ingredients such as peri peri, turmeric and coconut milk and cloves collected by the Portuguese seafaring traders on their travels along the coasts of Africa, India and South-East Asia ensure a different taste. Recipes were also reliant on the locally grown vegetables.
Building a sustainable food future
As a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, Macao intends to sustain and build on the accolade with all the passion expected of such a historically significant centre, from markets to restaurants, from generation to generation of cooks and chefs.
Senior Vice President, National Geographic Partners, Asia Pacific & The Middle East, Con Apostolopoulos says Macao and National Geographic are embarking on a new journey by exploring sustainability.
“The starting point is food, then there’s the culture, creativity, and the place itself. It’s the beginning of a grand adventure that lays the groundwork to educate Macao’s future gastronomic leaders,” Apostolopoulos says.
To build momentum and to ensure the future of Macanese cuisine, local chefs are rallying to teach the new generation all they need to know about sustainability. They see education as not only an important ingredient in the preparation and cooking of food but also as a way to share the message of how to deal with waste.
Locals see the designation as a City of Gastronomy as far reaching - beyond the kitchens and dining tables catering for the 650,000 permanent residents and the waves of tourists which numbered a record 35 million-plus in 2018.
Macao boasts a culinary legacy which has evolved as much as Macao itself, where long-standing East-meets-West features have as much to do with the food as they have with the local architecture, cultures and traditions.
Snap up one of the Macao Government Tourism Office’s free Step Out, Experience Macao’s Communities booklets of suggested self-guided walks or download the App from the Macao Tourism website onto a smartphone, and you can explore the many pathways and dining options on foot – at your own leisure.
You could easily find yourself seated in a tiny authentic restaurant, tucked away in a narrow passageway, dining with locals on a traditional hot pot, far from the madding tourist crowds.
Discover more about what makes Macao a UNESCO City of Gastronomy and a culinary destination on The Great Green Food Journey: Macao.