In an effort to ward off jet lag and make the most of my time before starting work, I decided to head to Macau on my second day in Hong Kong. I’d read a lot about the “Las Vegas of the East,” but was not really interested in seeing the casinos. I really wanted to get a feel for the old Macau and its Portuguese roots–especially through sampling its famous fusion cuisine.
After a pleasant ferry ride from Hong Kong, I arrived in Macau and boarded one of the many free shuttle buses provided by the casinos. From the Wynn, it was a short (but slightly confusing) walk to the Leal Senado, where many of Macau’s most historic buildings are.
Up the hill from the Leal Senado is the Ruinas de Sao Paulo, one of the most memorable and majestic sites in Macau. Souvenir shops and local snack shops (specializing in almond cookies and all types of dried meats) line the street leading up to the Ruins, making for a pleasant detour before the main event. I joined the crowds of eager tourists snapping photos of the majestic facade, and slowly climbed to the top of the steps for an up-close view.
After hiking the steps of Sao Paulo, I was famished and ready for lunch. A friend recommended that I try a pork chop bun, one of Macau’s specialties. The pork chop bun (豬排包) was more like a sandwich than a bun: two soy sauce marinated pork chops nestled into a crusty roll. I wouldn’t say this was my favorite dish–the pork was greasy and tasteless, and the roll was quite dry. But if the dish were done well, I can see how it would be popular.
To allay my disappointment over lunch, I decided to treat myself to dessert. I had read about a famous ice cream shop, Hung Heng Cocos, that specializes in coconut ice cream. Little did I know that shop was really more of a shack, tucked behind the Ruinas de Sau Paulo. It was a bit of a trek through many windy sidestreets, but I can wholeheartedly say it was worth it. The ice cream is more like frozen yogurt–light as air and not too sweet.
With a few hours to kill between lunch and dinner, I wandered away from the heavily developed tourist areas and got a taste of the “real” Macau. I was immediately struck by the disparity between the rich and the poor, the developed and undeveloped areas. In the shadow of the glitzy casinos and skyscrapers are old, decrepit tenements. Residents seem equally worn with age, passing the time playing mahjeong or practicing tai chi in the park, unaware or uninterested in the development around them.
For dinner, I went to A Lorcha, a very popular Portuguese restaurant recommended by my guidebook. The crowd was quite international, with European families, mainland Chinese tourists, and local Macanese all congregating for the traditional Portuguese fare and rustic ambiance.
I ordered the spicy tripe and chickpea stew and bacalhau sauteed in garlic and olive oil. The tripe and chickpea stew was warm and comforting, with a subdued level of spice. The tripe was cooked perfectly, and its chewiness added nice contrast to the bite of the chickpeas.
Bacalhau is a dried, salted codfish used in many Portuguese dishes. To my surprise, the fish was quite nice (albeit a bit slimy in texture), especially infused with the flavor from the garlic and olive oil. The boiled potato on the side was a tasty accompaniment. I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember the exact cost of my meal, but it came out to a bit over MOP $100–not exactly a bargain, but I was happy to have tried the island’s famous Portuguese cuisine. The meal was a delicious way to end an exhausting but fun day exploring Macau.