Monthly Archives: February 2016

Macau

While I love the sights, sounds, and smells of Hong Kong (which I will definitely have a couple blog posts about), to be honest I was most looking forward to tasting my way through Macau on my recent trip.

Macau, as you may know, is another Special Administrative Region of China, just across the mouth of the Pearl River from Hong Kong. Like Hong Kong, Macau was colonized by a European colonial power which has shaped its culinary legacy. Like Hong Kong, there is also significant influence of Cantonese people. After all, like Hong Kong, the vast majority of locals speak Cantonese as their native language.

Macau, however, is much smaller (in size and population) than Hong Kong and was influenced by European colonization for a lot longer. After all, the Portuguese had started administrating Macau since 1557, centuries before the British even attempted to make Hong Kong a colony. Given that, a lot of Macanese food seems to have a lot more influence from Portugal compared to the influence of the United Kingdom on the food in Hong Kong, which I’ll explore a little further below.

However, I only had a day and a half in Macau, which meant cramming as much dining adventures I could while also doing some sightseeing to walk off all that caloric intake. Below are a few restaurants and/or foods I ate around town on my limited time .

Street Food (pastéis de nata & pork chop sandwiches)

Like Hong Kong, Macau has an abundance of street food, much of it fairly similar. However, there are several items that are unique to Macau, including world renown  pastéis de nata.

Pastel de nata at Margaret’s Café e Nata

Pastel de nata at Margaret’s Café e Nata

Pastéis de nata (or 葡撻 in traditional Chinese, as in Portuguese style egg tarts) are a little different than Cantonese style eggs tarts in that, based on my experience, they have are a little creamier and always have a flaky crust (Cantonese style egg tarts may have a short crust instead). Of course, there’s also the added ‘creme brulee effect’ that adds a layer of caramelized sugar on top.

There’s a number vendors that sell pastéis de nata and you can practically buy and eat one of them every few steps on your walk from Senado Square to the Ruins of St. Paul’s. Due to extreme self control, I only had one on my walk which was good but not the best (as their business runs more on turnover than quality). Afterward, however, I was able to go to one of the famed pastéis de nata makers, Margaret’s Café e Nata, located in an ally filled with street food vendors a block away from the Grand Lisboa hotel. Margaret’s pastéis de nata were very delicious with a buttery and flaky crust, creamy filling, melding perfectly with the thin layer of caramelized sugar on top. The next day I headed to the other vaunted pastéis de nata vendor, Lord Stow’s Bakery, at their location in the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian Macau. While the pastéis de nata at Lord Stow were also really good, the egg custard seemed less creamy and more akin to a Cantonese egg tart. Between the two, I would go to Margaret’s.

Macau 3

Pork Chop Sandwich in Macau

Pastéis de nata, however, aren’t the only popular Macanese street food option. Another is the pork chop sandwich. While I only had one pork chop sandwich, at a place around the corner from Margaret’s with a sign awning saying 澳門豬扒包專門店 (which literally translates to pork chop bun shop), it was pretty good. The pork chop was moist and a little tender with a perfectly warm and freshly baked bun. Given the limited space in my stomach, however I wasn’t able to compare it to other places like 大利來記. All in all, Macanese food was a great experience.

Riquexo
69 Avenida Sidonio Pais
Macau

Macau 1

Meal at Riquexo

After I walked up to the ruins of St. Paul’s and hiked up to see the breathtaking views from the Monte Fort I headed to Riquexo for lunch. Riquexo is a little hole in the wall restaurant that is a little walk out of the way from the main tourist spots on the Macau peninsula. However, the family that owns and runs the place is one of the last families to speak patua, a Macanese creole language based on Portuguese but also influenced by Cantonese, Malay, and Sinhalese. Based on that, I felt I had to go here for a taste of Macanese food.

At Riquexo you can choose a dish on the steam tray table, which will come with rice, soup, and a choice of dessert. Once you pick the dish, you take a seat and they present the food to you. I got their most famous and popular item, minchi. Minchi is a dish of ground pork marinated and simmered in a molasses and soy sauce mixture. I found it pretty good with some finely diced fried potatoes as well that helped soak up the slightly sweet but very savory sauce. It actually tasted fairly similar to a ground pork dish that my mom used to make. The soup was nice as well. While it wasn’t the most mindblowing soup I’ve had, it tasted like a simple ‘homecooked’ soup that definitely gave me some cozy comfort on a cold winter day. In contrast, the flan at the end was only okay and perhaps a touch too sweet for my taste.

Feast
Sheraton Grand Macao Hotel
Cotai Central

I ended the night at Feast, a buffet that advertises in “cuisines of the world” but really specializes in Macanese cuisine and other cuisines of Portuguese colonialism. After a long day of sightseeing and spending some time at the hotel fitness center, I went down to the buffet a little bit before closing.

Given the immense options at a buffet, especially one operating in Macau or Las Vegas, I will focus on particular highlights that I feel were pretty great. First of all, I loved the bacalhau fresco they served, which was a nice mix of Portuguese style fresh cod with the sweet soy sauce typically used for Cantonese steamed fish as accompaniment. The galinha à africana was wonderful as well, with a great blend of African spices perfectly complimenting the succulent chicken. I would also highly recommend the amêijoas à bulhão pato, which was a dish of clams cooked in wine, garlic, and bacon.

They also had a seafood bar as well with an abundance of fresh seafood. However, given how late it was, my lobster was overcooked and not that great. To the side of the buffet was a beef brisket noodle soup station where you could build your own authentic Cantonese style beef brisket noodle soup, which was delicious and a great taste of home. Lastly, there was a dessert bar, but unfortunately they were closing up shop by the time I was ready for dessert.

Conclusion

All in all, Macanese food is delicious and way underappreciated (aside from the pastéis de nata). I practically loved every item I ate, though I will be the first to acknowledge that I am not sure if the places I ate at were the best of their representative classes. I suspect that my buffet experience probably didn’t represent the best of Macanese food, but certainly I wouldn’t have been able to try all those dishes at a more traditional restaurant without forking over 2-3 times the amount I paid.

I would certainly recommend others who take a vacation to Hong Kong to take a side trip to Macau. It’s just an hour away by ferry and the sights and sounds of this other Chinese Special Administrative Region will have you hungering for more.

Cathay Pacific

There are a few airlines that fly directly from the US West Coast to Hong Kong: Cathay Pacific (out of both SFO and LAX), Delta (out of SEA), Singapore (out of SFO), and United (out of SFO). While I would have loved to try out Singapore Airline’s Economy Class, I decided to fly Cathay Pacific on this trip to Hong Kong as I am trying to get elite status on American Airlines this year. Thus, I booked a flight on Cathay Pacific through American Airlines.

CX 5

Discovery, Cathay Pacific’s inflight magazine

Cathay Pacific has a reputation for being one of the best airlines in the world, even if you are flying in Economy. While I was excited to fly them again for a number of reasons, the food wasn’t one of them, if I’m being honest. Maybe I over-hyped myself on my last trip to Hong Kong, but I found half the meals on my March-April 2015 trip to be disappointing. Even their signature dish, braised beef over rice, seemed too salty and way too drenched in sauce (though I must add that the congee on that trip was excellent).

Needless to say, I had low expectations for this pair of flights, but I was delightfully surprised as you can see below.

LAX-HKG (CX 883)

Cathay Pacific flight 883 currently leaves Los Angeles at 10:35PM Pacific Time with a scheduled landing at 5:40AM in Hong Kong. As such, Cathay Pacific serves supper a little after take off and breakfast a couple hours before landing with the ability to order a few snacks (for free!) in between meal services.

CX 3

Beef provencal, green beans, carrots, and parlsey red bliss potatoes on CX 883

For supper I got the beef provencal, green beans, carrots, and parlsey red bliss potatoes. I eschewed the braised chicken Chinese dish option given the lackluster taste from my last trip. While I don’t know if the braised chicken was any better this flight, the beef was really good. I loved how the provencal sauce was perfectly season and there was just enough to cover the beef and help flavor the vegetables without overpowering everything. The vanilla ice cream, as usual, was a nice touch. However, I’m still not a fan of the marinated baby shrimp and quinoa salad. The frozen shrimp doesn’t taste great and the flavors really don’t meld well with any main entree.

Chicken and Ginger Congee on CX 883

Chicken and Ginger Congee on CX 883

After watching The Martian and Room, I got a decent amount of rest and woke up pretty much around breakfast time. Because I loved the congee I had on my last trip, I decided to have the Chicken and Ginger Congee. While the congee itself was pretty decent, and I always love a little bit of ginger in it, the chicken was overcooked and pretty tough. The chicken and mushroom congee of last year was a little better from my experience.

HKG-LAX (CX 884)

CX 2

Braised beef rib finger, soya sauce, jade melon, and steamed jasmine rice on CX 884

Given my decent success with the meal services on my way to Hong Kong, I decided to go forward and try all their Chinese menu options for the trip back home. The first meal service was lunch where I had the braised beef rib finger, soya sauce, jade melon, and steamed jasmine rice. This was undoubtedly the best meal of all my flights so far on Cathay Pacific. The braised beef was tendered and well seasoned without being too salty. I loved the slight bitterness of the jade melon that cut the fattiness of the beef. And, of course, I love rice so it helped round out the meal. The carrot, corn, raisin, and honey mustard salad was delicious too as was the small chocolate ice cream for dessert.

Chicken, sand ginger sauce, and steamed jasmine rice on CX 844

Chicken, sand ginger sauce, and steamed jasmine rice on CX 844

Dinner service started a few hours before our arrival at around 9:30PM Hong Kong time. This time I ordered the chicken, sand ginger sauce, and steamed jasmine rice. Before I even ate the dish, I noticed that Economy passengers had real silverware as utensils, the first time I ever had that for meal service on the flight since the late 1990s on an American Airlines transcontinental flight. Of course, having silverware or pasticware doesn’t necessarily denote the quality of the meal. In this case, the chicken was pretty good, if a little dry, and I really liked the savory sand ginger sauce. Unfortunately, there was too little sauce meaning that 1/3 of the meal was just eating plain rice, which was alright with me. I liked the panna cotta as well, but given that I had cup noodles and a few packets of peanuts midflight, I wasn’t able to finish it.

All in all, this pair of flights really highlighted the potential good quality of meals you can find, even on Economy, on Cathay Pacific. While none of the dishes are going to win awards and praise if they were served at a land based restaurant, they certainly beat the cold sandwiches with 60%+ dry, bland bread that you would have to cough up $10+ for on an American domestic flight. I am delightfully looking forward to the meal on my next Cathay Pacific flight, on business class from New York to Vancouver.