Taipa Village, Macau: A seriously multicultural range of cuisines

A guitarist strums in a corner of the restaurant, singing Portuguese folk songs. At a table near him, a waiter is creating a spectacle as she flambés a dish over a gas stove. On the walls hang paintings depicting traditional village scenes, beneath colourful ceramic ornaments and a model boat.

This eatery couldn't be more Portuguese if it tried – but we're not in Portugal. This is Taipa Village in the autonomous Chinese territory of Macau, and the restaurant is called Antonio. The chef and owner, Antonio Coelho, was a soldier when Macau was still a Portuguese colony.

"I first came here in the army in 1971," he says, joining me at my table, a vibrant personality with collar-length grey hair over a black suit and a red and orange tie. "Then I came back to Macau in 1997, and eventually opened a restaurant in Taipa.

"In those days Taipa was quieter: less pollution than elsewhere, not so many casinos in the area. After we set up, plenty more restaurants opened within a hundred metres. Now the city has started up museums as well."

With its codfish cakes, octopus salad and Alvarinho wine, Antonio's restaurant is forever a corner of Portugal - but it's also a keystone of Taipa Village.

Macau is far smaller than its near-neighbour and former British colony Hong Kong, to which it's linked by ferries as well as a newly-opened bridge and tunnel link. Its Old City on the Macau Peninsula is densely packed with apartments and historic buildings, while the island to the south is dominated by casinos and hotels.

To each side of the Cotai casino district, however, are the former islands of Taipa and Coloane, now linked by reclaimed land. Their townships provide the opportunity to experience Macau at a more relaxed pace.

In the morning I walk from my Cotai hotel to Taipa Village's low-rise buildings, many of which contain restaurants and cultural attractions. The most attractive is the Taipa Houses Museum, a set of buildings which were once the homes of colonial-era officials.

Standing on the shore of a lake, they're painted in an attractive shade of pale green, suggestive of wedding cakes with their decorative white eaves and stepped two-storey structures.

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They're used for a variety of cultural purposes, including art shows, historical displays and for a shop selling locally-created gifts. The most interesting is the first house, restored to its appearance as an early 20th century home. It looks both comfortable and practical, designed for the humid climate in an age before air-conditioning.

As I wander through the streets of Taipa Village, I find a curious mix of Chinese and European architecture: from the yellow stucco walls of the hilltop Church of Our Lady of Carmel, to the colourful Taoist Pak Tai Temple.

A delightful cross-cultural relic is the Feira do Carmo, once used as an open-air marketplace. Its roof of Chinese tiles is supported by 10 Roman pillars, a fusion of east and west. It's a reminder that the Portuguese colonial presence lasted more than four centuries, a story recounted in the former municipal building which now houses the Museum of Taipa and Coloane History.

From here it's an easy walk along the narrow streets to places of culinary interest. Beyond several Portuguese restaurants including Antonio, a highlight is Mok Yeo Kei, which serves sweet treats such as durian ice-cream, jellies and "sawdust pudding", a Macau favourite made from whipped cream and crumbled biscuits.

The southern village, Coloane, is much smaller but has its own popular places to eat. One is Lord Stow's Bakery, famous for its Portuguese egg tarts; another is Nga Tim, a restaurant serving Chinese, Portuguese and local Macanese cuisine.

Sitting outside it on a balmy evening, eating good food while overlooking the illuminated façade of the Chapel of St Francis Xavier, I remember something else Antonio told me: "Food doesn't have frontiers."

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/macau

taipavillagemacau.com

visitmacao.com.au

FLY

Cathay Pacific flies from several Australian cities to Hong Kong, from where Macau can be reached by ferry. See cathaypacific.com and turbojet.com.hk

STAY

St Regis Macao offers luxury accommodation near Taipa Village. From $350 per night. See stregismacao.com

Sofitel Ponte16 is on the waterfront in the Old City. From $160 per night. See sofitelmacau.com

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of the Macao Government Tourism Office.

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