“Don’t judge a book by its cover”- English idiom
Had no idea what to expect when I boarded the ferry to Macau from Central Hong Kong. All I ever heard is it is the Vegas of Asia, where everything is fuelled by the greed of gambling. I was also advised that Macau is only worth a day trip, unless you like casinos. How wrong were they!
Macau maybe known for gamblers for losing their whole pot on the Black Jack table, but what I found was jackpots of goodness! Chilli goodness! Or dessert goodness! Or.. Who cares, but there is definitely more to Macau than what I’ve been told.
No more than an hour ferry ride, we reached the first and the last European colony in Asia. Upon arrival, you could see all the free shuttle services from the casino-hotels across the terminal. For most, that pretty much seals Macau’s image as the gambling central, but not me. I was more than determined to keep looking. Hence, we chose to stay in Old Macau, rather than the land-filled glitz at Cotai strip.
Strolling around Old Macau was like strolling down an Asian Portugal. Lined with only Portuguese and Chinese for street names, it was a bit challenging to ask the locals for directions as they all had local names for those major streets. Moreover, the windiness of streets (also known as rua here), not knowing which had ended or which had just begun got us lost, just when we were so tired and hungry from walking in the sun.
A local couple understood our confused looks. It wasn’t difficult to spot us as I was complaining loudly at my phone.They were surprised that we took the effort in the dark to look for this joint, as old Macau is very difficult to navigate. Most especially when most streets in the old city aren’t named and you have to know those streets by knowing which cathedral is nearby.
Long story short, their conclusion: You basically have to be local to find some good treasures. They were surprised we knew of this restaurant to begin with, as it was one of their favourite local haunts! Talk about fate!
This said local haunt is where you can get authentic Portuguese fare with Portuguese wine by a local Macanese. Around for 30 years, quite elusive on the internet, we only heard of it through the grapevine. We didn’t really know where it really was, except it’s in Santo Antonio district. That’s probably why we got lost. The name is Cafe Xina and it has a bomb of bacalhau dish!
This is just the beginning. Macanese cuisine is quite something. Just like the tales of the first Portuguese sailors, it has the African influence of piri-piri spices and the Portuguese love of seafood. In Macau, throw in the Cantonese goodness too! Here goes nothing!
Beware: Food porn ahead.
I can’t write all about the jackpot I’ve found in Macau, and if you are following the narrative right, of course it’s the food. There are just too many gems in Macanese cuisine to rave about. Good thing Macau (including Taipa Island) is such a walkable city, to help walk off those calories. Remember how streets in the old city doesn’t have much of a pattern? Just keep getting lost, you’ll walk more. Then you’ll eat more!
If we didn’t book a show in one of the casinos on Cotai Strip, we could’ve just been all cooped up in the peninsula. Just further down the strip was Taipa, one of the first Chinese settlement in the area. It is not a big place, but it packs a punch. Just about 20 minutes walk around the block, you’ll find a chock full of street food, temples and even a flea market.
Well, what’s a trip to Macau without venturing into one of those Vegas shows, right? Back to the strip, we managed to see the reclaimed land miracle that now fuels Macau’s economy. Glitzy, shiny, shimmering, I actually was not as impressed as when I was visiting the beautiful cathedrals. Heck, I even preferred the crowds at Senado Square. Those casinos, they felt like soul-sucking bunch, sucking the original jackpot of Macau.
Fair warning to my fellow travellers, summer time in Macau can be quite taxing. Just like Hong Kong, Macau is not immune to their Mainlander brothers from the north. Popular historic attractions like Senado Squares and Ruins of St Paul can be a bit of a war of selfie sticks. But do not let that ruin your Macanese experience. Just think about the delicious jackpot exploding in your mouth.
To get to Macau:
From Hong Kong, take a ferry from Sheung Wan Terminal (HK Island) or Kowloon Ferry Terminal (Tsim Tsa Tsui). One way trip will cost you HKD 164 (~USD 22), usually with a free luggage included.
To get to Taipa from Old City:
Bus in Macau don’t quite do numbers. Bus routes are best recognised by its Portuguese names, on display on all bus. Fares for Taipa is MOP/HKD 4.20.
HK Octopus card doesn’t work in Macau. Bring coins with you at all times.
Misshoggy stayed in Ole Tai Sam Un in Old Macau.