A Culinary Journey Through the Land of CasinosMacao is the only place in China where gambling is legal and it is also home to eight of the world’s ten largest casinos based on revenue.
A phenomenal 30 million-plus travellers visit Macao each year, cramming in to a 32 square kilometre space with the island’s 650,000 residents, making it one of the most densely populated regions in the world.
The main reason for my recent trip to Macao wasn’t to render myself penniless on the island’s roulette tables, but to discover the historical treasure trove of Asian and Portuguese culture and cuisine that it prides itself upon.
In 1557 the People’s Republic of China leased Macao to Portugal as a trading post. In 1887 the Portuguese secured an agreement from China that made Macao a Portuguese territory until it was handed back to the Chinese government in 1999.
We learnt more about this fascinating little place on our first day whilst on an early morning walk through the densely populated Portuguese and Chinese quarter with our Macao born-and-bred guide Joao Sales.
Passing crates of drying fish on the sidewalks, we walked to the peaceful and undulating Camões Gardens, where tai chi and exercise classes share this inner city oasis with the loudest little frogs in the world.
Nearby are some of Macao’s most popular tourist attractions, such as St Paul’s Church ruins (only the façade remains), which was burnt down in 1865 and never rebuilt, the baroque St Dominic’s Church, the Macao Cathedral and the Chinese Na Tcha Temple.
Our walk concluded at UNES- CO’s world heritage site Senado Square, with its wave patterned stone mosaic surface that has been Macao’s urban centre for centuries.
Passing the busiest foodie street in town, we were told that some of the little shops there have been mentioned in the Michelin rating guidebooks.
“We have included street food to reflect the local culinary scene, as street food is part of the local way of life,” the international director of the Michelin guide said.
Macao was originally made up of a peninsula connected to the main- land and two islands, Coloane and Taipa. The islands are now linked by the reclaimed area of Cotai, where most of the casinos and resorts are today.
From Macao we were driven to Coloane Island to experience a Portuguese lunch of traditional Macanese food at the charming Espaco Lisboa restaurant, where we gorged upon garlic prawns, salted cod garnished with olives and potatoes, and a Macanese favourite, minced lamb topped with a fried egg. We all rolled out of there, but not before we demolished a delectable Portuguese tart or two.
Leaving historical Coloane Island we headed to modern Cotai, where we visited the Galaxy Hotel complex, home to five hotels including the dazzling Ritz-Carlton. It was here that we visited the 51st floor RC Bar, which offered Macao’s largest selection of gins and views that went on forever.
Later on we were entertained at the Parisian Macao Hotel by a dynamic cabaret performance by
La Parisienne Cabaret Francais, an eclectic combo of burlesque dancers, acrobatic basketballers, ice skaters and motorbike stunt men.
We then checked in to the mind-bogglingly opulent MGM Cotai Hotel, where we stayed for two nights, and kicked things off with a lunch at the AJI Restaurant, which is the first authentic Japanese/Peruvian fusion Nikkei restaurant in Macao. The highlight of our meal was a 50-hour sous vide Kagoshima beef short rib smothered in netsuke sauce. Incredible.
That evening our gastronomical journey took us to the Wynn Palace Hotel – via a six-seated cable car called Skycab – for an evening of food, music and entertainment at SW Restaurant and Theatre, and it was here that I devoured a perfectly cooked piece of wagyu beef.
The next day our tour continued to Red Market, a three-level fresh produce market located in down- town Macao where huge smiles with the notable absence of teeth are common place. We later enjoyed a traditional Chinese tea at the Long Wa Tea House.
We then walked over to the waterfront to witness more of Macao’s amazing history including the influential A-Ma Temple, the so-called birthplace of Macao. This walk allowed us to indulge in a lunch in the City of Dreams Resort at a two-star Michelin Chinese restaurant called the Jade Dragon. Every single dish was a highlight, but if I were forced to pick just one it would have to be the crispy suckling pig with caviar. Outrageously good.
Our busy agenda included a dynamic live show at the City of Dreams Resort called The House of Dancing Water, which is the world’s largest water-based stage show. The high diving display we witnessed was pure lunacy. It was like Cirque Du Soleil on steroids.
Later that afternoon, as a striking sunset shrouded Taipa Island, we walked the historical little laneways and had drinks at the newly opened Goa Nights bar before another authentic Portuguese feast at the family owned Santos Restaurant.
The last day saw us visit the newly named Regency Art Hotel, where we indulged in our final and finest Macanese five-course banquet at the art deco Flamingo Restaurant. It was like a walk back in time as this restaurant and the hotel in which it’s housed still retain all of the old world charm of yesteryear.
This was a memorable trip that will have Macao embedded in my memory and my taste buds for a very long time to come.
The Rocks Hotel
MGM Cotai Hotel
Cathay Pacific Airlines