Macanese Food Guide
Macau’s rich colonial history has always given it a leg up on other dining destinations. The Portuguese brought a slice of Iberia to the Orient, the local Southern Chinese introduced Cantonese food from Guangdong and Fujian, and then Macanese cuisine developed at the end, a truly unique world food culled from Portugal’s great naval expedition Eastward, and the integration of spices, vegetables and other ingredients from Africa, India, Indonesia and China.
It’s all resulted in Macau being home to the best Portuguese food in Asia, the most authentic Cantonese fare outside of the mainland and Hong Kong, as well as one fantastic local cuisine that was created and developed through the centuries by the Portuguese, yet strangely enough can’t be found in Portugal, only in Macau.
The dining scene has also benefited greatly from the explosive growth of the casino industry over the past 15 years, as evidenced by the 2020 Michelin Guide, which awarded stars to 20 of Macau’s restaurants, quite an impressive achievement for a city that doesn’t even have a million people. The addition of superlative French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Indian cuisine has turned Macau into a true world class dining destination, one that only promises to get better in the years to come.
In this section, I’m going to break it all down for you, by introducing the different styles of food and snacks, as well as recommend restaurants that I enjoy visiting myself.
Let’s kick it off with a special local cuisine that’s basically unavailable anywhere else on the planet.
One of the world’s first fusion foods, Macanese cuisine is fundamentally Portuguese in origin, structure and cooking style, but international in its use of spices, ingredients and seasonings. It dates back to the foundation of the city, when Portuguese sailors took recipes from home and tried to make them work halfway across the world.
Faced with an inevitable shortage of traditional food supplies, they (or, more accurately, their Asian wives) were forced to use African, Indian, Malaysian and Chinese ingredients instead, integrating them with classic Portuguese dishes to create a brand new world cuisine.
A true fusion food in every sense of the word, integral ingredients in Macanese dishes include balichao (Chinese shrimp paste), garam masala (Northern Indian/South Asian seasoning), coconut and coconut milk (Indonesia/Malaysia), mui de gargenta (Chinese plums), goji berries (red Chinese berries), turmeric (Indian curry or colouring agent), and tamarind (African and Indian fruit), among others.
If you’d like to learn more about Macanese food and how to prepare it, there’s a great cookbook on sale for $170 at the Portuguese Bookshop on the Shoe Street (s) called “The Cuisine of Macao from My Grandfather’s House.”
Here’s a sampling of some classic Macanese dishes that you definitely need to try when in town. After all, you probably won’t get another chance to order them anywhere else in the world!
1. African Chicken @ Henri’s Galley ($170)
How African Chicken migrated to Macau and became a celebrated local dish is one of the city’s great unsolved mysteries. Some say it was created by hotel chef Americo Angelo in the 1940’s, while others argue it came from Mozambique and Angola via soldiers who were stationed at Mong Ha Fort in the 50’s.
Whatever the case, it’s a tender, succulent bird smothered in a thick scrumptious sauce, usually made of peanuts, tomato, coconut and chilli. Henri’s Galley is reputed to make the best African Chicken in town, and I don’t disagree.
2. Minchi @ Rickshaw ($70)
Macau’s national dish is as simple as it is stupendous: minced beef or pork (and sometimes both) served together with diced potatoes. Maddeningly addictive, it’s comfort food that provides real comfort, and I’m hooked on it hard.
3. Pork with Balichao and Tamarind @ Litoral ($180)
Utilizing seasonings native to Africa and India respectively, Pork with Balichao and Tamarind is another unique Macau creation, one I doubt you can find anywhere else in the world. Similar to a slow cooked pork stew, it’s served in a rich gravy like sauce, that’s somehow sweet, spicy and sour at the same time.
One of the more exotic choices on this list, elements of seafood or fish are also present, and I have no idea how they got there.
Hit the most beautiful and atmospheric Macanese restaurant in town, Litoral, for this extremely interesting local dish.
4. Feijoada @ Litoral ($230)
If you ever got lost inside a pot of feijoada, it would take weeks for search parties to fish your body out. The national dish of Portugal, it always got a slight reworking when prepared in one of the colonies, and Macau was no exception.
Using everything but the kitchen sink, it’s a thick hearty stew filled with cabbage, sausage, red beans, black beans, pig ear and pig knuckle. Fantastic when paired with rice, Litoral makes a mean bowl, but it’s the simple kind of home style food that many restaurants get right.
5. Tacho ($300/medium serving) @ Apo Mac
Based on the same principles as feijoada, Tacho literally translates to “Pot”, and is made of cabbage mixed with pork skin, pork knuckles, chicken wings, roasted pork and Chinese sausages, instead of the traditional Portuguese chouriço. While feijoada is closer in consistency to a stew, tachos is thinner, almost like a soup, and the dish could almost function like that if you remove all the meat.
Tacho is best eaten in groups where the portion sizes are smaller, since it doesn’t take long before the rich oils from the heavy fatty meats fill you up. The medium serving at Apo Mac could definitely feed 4 people, if treated as a main and served with rice.
6. Macanese Chilli Shrimps @ Carlos ($70/piece)
A touch spicy and a tickle sour, the secret to Macanese Chilli Shrimps is the scary good sauce. Not much is really done with the shrimp, it’s mostly just there to showcase the sauce, which you absolutely need to mop up with a bowl of plain white rice.
Señor Carlos makes a killer version: surely one of the simpler yet tastier servings in town.
7. Portuguese Chicken @ Carlos ($148)
Don’t be fooled by the name: even though it’s called Portuguese Chicken, it’s a Macanese creation through and through. The ingredients read like a log book from a Portuguese trading vessel that sailed in 1570: turmeric from Goa, coconut milk from Indonesia, a little dash of inspiration from East Timor.
A casserole style dish jam packed with chicken, curry and potatoes, and often topped with eggs, sausage and olives, it’s a thick creamy mixture of marvellous love. Again, hit up Señor Carlos, and try some of the best Portuguese Chicken that Macau has to offer.
8. Porco Bafassa ($90/quarter serving) @ Apo Mac
They say Porco Bafassa is a Macanese dish, and if it is, then it’s the turmeric gravy that takes it there. Otherwise, it’s pretty similar to a lot of pork I had growing up – slow cooked till the meat is mouth-wateringly soft and then served with potatoes. The only selection that I somewhat question, the fact that it tastes great and is a staple in many Macanese cookbooks is why it’s included here.
Like the Tacho above, try Porco Bafassa at Apo Mac, but both dishes have to be ordered in advance.
Macanese Food: Restaurant Recommendations
We have three ladies to thank in particular for the preservation and promotion of Macanese cuisine: Aida de Jesus, Vitoria Baptista and Manuela Ferreira. Many moons ago, they used to cook for social gatherings held at the now defunct Clube Macau, and perhaps their popularity there is what ultimately inspired them to set up restaurants of their own. It’s no exaggeration to say that without their contributions, Macanese cuisine might already be a footnote in history (for tourists anyway), just like their local language Patua.
Known as the White House of Macanese cuisine, Litoral has been delighting diners since 1995.
Location: Rua do Almirante Sergio 261-A
Phone number: (853) 2896 7878
Classic cafe owned by the grandmother of Macanese cuisine, the venerable centenarian Aida de Jesus.
Location: No.69 Avenida Sidonio Pais
Phone number: (853) 2856 5655
Maven of Macau link: Rickshaw Macau
Located a stone’s throw from the Rickshaw, Vitoria Baptista’s restaurant is a retirement club for former government workers, but everyone is free to dine there. It features an extensive selection of Macanese favorites, some of which can only be pre-ordered, ranging in price from $250 to $650.
Location: No 49-B Avendia Sidonio Pais
Phone number: (853) 2878 8813
Maven of Macau link: Apomac
Phone number: (853) 2875 1838
Maven of Macau link: Carlos
IFT Educational Restaurant
IFT is on the list primarily because of their Portuguese and Macanese buffet held every Friday night, which costs $280 (adult) and $140 (child).
Apart from that, African Chicken, Minchi, and Pork with Balichao and Tamarind are available on their a la carte menu.
The Chef’s Table is private dining only, and only an option for larger groups, since the minimum booking is for 10 people. Prices are very good though with one soup, appetizer, salad, dessert and 1 to 2 main courses only $500 per person. In addition to Macanese food, Portuguese and Vegetarian selections are also available. Please note that bookings have to be confirmed at least 3 days prior to the event date.
Due to the fact that I don’t have ten friends in the whole world, let alone in Macau, I haven’t been able to try Chef’s Table yet. If you’re going to be in town with a big group of people though and plan to give it a go, please save a seat at the table for me and I’d love to write a review for it. Until then, my apologies….