Macau’s proud Portuguese heritage can be tasted in its cuisine
Not many fanatical foodies understand where the concept of ‘fusion cuisine’ came from.
There is one city in China that lays claim to being the first to develop a fusion dining scene, with a mix of east-meets-west flavours. The Special Administrative Region of Macau was a former Portuguese colony. Towards the end of the 16th Century, Ming China permitted the city to be leased to Portugal, for use as a strategic trading post, helping to improve links between the Far East and the Mediterranean.
For over 300 years, the city of Macau was governed by Portugal – under Chinese authority and sovereignty – while the Portuguese paid an annual ground rent. Portugal then received full sovereignty over Macau in 1887, until it was transferred back to the People’s Republic of China on the eve of the Millennium in 1999. Understandably a percentage of the Macanese community has been brought up in a Eurasian world. One of the main characteristics of the Macanese community is its unique cuisine, blending authentic Portuguese delicacies with savoury Chinese flavours for several centuries.
Fast forward to the present day and Macau now attracts well over 30 million tourists each year. Unfortunately, they aren’t drawn in by the iconic Macanese cuisine, instead they are tempted by the city’s vibrant casino industry. The city’s historic streets are almost unrecognizable today, with casino resorts bathed in neon dominating the skyline and raking in four times the annual casino revenues of Las Vegas. China also has plans to develop Macau as a financial hub, with the city set to join the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
As the city’s population has less than 1% of native Portuguese speakers, it’s clear that Macau’s Portuguese heritage is fading fast. That’s why it’s important to discover and sample the delights of Macanese fusion cuisine today, before it is consigned to the history books. Question marks remain as to whether the current generation of Macanese citizens will be able to encourage the traditions to live on in their offspring. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most cherished Macanese dishes and share their delicacies before time runs out.
Considered the official dish of Macanese cuisine, Minchi can be found in every Macanese restaurant in the city – and in most Macanese households too. This stir-fried dish uses the cheaper cuts of pork and beef chopped and diced into rough mince using a classic cleaver. This classic one pot meal combines both light and dark soy, a healthy dose of garlic and onions, as well as rice, peppers and any other vegetables available, before being topped with a fried egg for extra protein.
You might be scratching your head as to why African Chicken has become a staple dish in Macanese cuisine, but it is thought to have derived from another former Portuguese colony, Mozambique. This mouth-watering meal sees chicken breast marinated in onion, garlic, chili and paprika for some time, before covering it to simmer in a zesty coconut sauce including peanuts for texture. It’s then grilled to create another crisp topping.
Interestingly, Capela is a Portuguese dish that no longer exists anywhere in Portugal. This meatloaf-style dish has become a regular delicacy on the menu of most Macanese eateries. This meatloaf dish is topped with bacon slices, breadcrumbs, cheese and egg yolk, giving it a golden and crispy texture. Some people say the dish is named ‘Capela’ because the loaf is designed to be round with a hole in the middle, resembling something like a traditional Portuguese chapel.
Many years ago, when Macau was a city state without mod-cons like fridges and freezers, locals opted to preserve leftover ingredients by cooking them in spices and vinegar. Diablo is a dish that many locals fall back on during Boxing Day. This tradition sees leftover Christmas meats cooked into what is known as the “devil’s curry”, hence the Diablo label. This sweet and sour curry also comprises Worcestershire sauce and pickled vegetables to create that addictive tang.
Visitors to Macau’s old town should embark on a pilgrimage through these streets in search for authentic Macanese fare. That’s because, like the local language that’s fast disappearing, the original fusion cuisine might not be long for this world.