My latest foodie adventure was to Macau. Although I had heard it referred to as the ‘Asian Vegas’, I had been inspired by my trip to Hong Kong to explore yet another nearby melting-pot of East-meets-West and was determined to discover Macau’s hidden gems, overshadowed by the imposing- and somewhat obscene - casinos. Yet I soon discovered that this stark contrast is exactly what makes it such a unique place - the grotesque gambling scene cheek by jowl with the local Macanese culture.
To get a true sense of this contrast, I begin my exploration by venturing into the metropolis of the Cotai strip, home to the mega-theatres, casinos and theme-parks. The atmosphere was positively manic; I must have walked 10km through mall after mall, getting lost in a labyrinth of endless designer shops desperately looking for some sunlight as there was not a window in sight. It waslike being trapped in a monstrous airport.
Macau’s official status is that of a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. From the mid-16th century until 1999, the island was administered by Portugal, and there is still a large Portuguese-speaking community: most people who grew up before the handover to China can speak both Portuguese and Cantonese. This mélange of Portuguese and Chinese culture is visible not only from the bilingual street signs, but also through the Buddhist temples next-door to Catholic churches, and the cobbled Lisbon-esq backstreets in areas like Taipa.
Perhaps the one positive aspect of colonisation is its automatic creation of fusion cuisine. My Portuguese friends like to remind me that it was their nation who introduced cane sugar to Europe from their colonisation of Brazil. The Portuguese still have an amazing reputation for delicious sweets and pastries.Taipa was abundant with patisseries, wafting heavenly smells of freshly baked almond cookies and the popular Macanese peanut nougat. I discovered that the Asian twist on the classic pastéis de nata (egg custard tart) is made with Birds’ Nest (a Chinese delicacy) – a perfect example of the marriage of these two cuisines.
But I must admit that I was positively overjoyed to be staying within walking distance of the wonderful vegetarian and vegan organic eatery The Blissful Carrot. Ironically located opposite a steak house and on the same road as a restaurant serving shark fin soup, this delicious oasis is a beacon of hope for the Macanese community promoting sustainable, environmentally conscious cuisine. I had the pleasure of meeting the founders - an inspirational Canadian couple whose passion can be seen and felt through the ambiance of the place and in its sumptuous offerings. Unashamedly going against my principles of only eating locally sourced food, I ordered the 'Mexican Fiesta' salad to feed my avocado obsession, with some of their fabulous homemade tempeh. It was fascinating talking Marisa – the culinary genius behind their nutritious and wholesome menu – who told me that they actually sourced all their vegetables from Adam's organic farm in Thailand, being the closest available source of organic produce, due to the lack of regulation on pesticides used on crops in China.
It just goes to show that, even in this place of such contrast and contradiction, you can find the authentic among the artificial. That’s what this extraordinary mix of fusion and confusion offers.