Where to eat in Macau: 10 places to eat outside the casinos

Macau or Macao? – Regardless of how you spell it, China's answer to Vegas is one of the most intriguing food destinations in Asia. A veritable three-ringed circus of Portuguese, Chinese and Macanese cuisines, where casino-based Michelin–starred restaurants (think Joel Robuchon in the Grand Lisboa) fight for real estate space with centuries-old teahouses and taverns. 

For my money Macau's most memorable meals are found where there is a tangible connection to history, culture or place, and where standard menu items include everything from African chicken and Macanese samosas to egg tarts and pork-chop buns. 

1. Chow down on a Pork chop bun – Tai Lei Loi Kei

 

Yummy #porkchopbun 🐽 #senadosquare #taileiloikei #macau

A photo posted by Arcee Tiu (@arceetiu) on

Not just any pork chop, mind, but one from Tai Lei Loi Kei, the famous street store that has been serving up porky pig buns since 1968. While you'll find Macau's fast-food equivalent to hamburgers on every street corner, Tai Lei Loi Kei uses its own secret ingredients to deliver the perfect combination of sweet meat inside a fluffy bun, with just the right amount of seasoning.

TIP: Beware of the bone. 

Two main outlets; one in Taipa Village, the other at 18 Largo Governador Tamagnnini Barbosa, Macau. $MOP52

2. Enjoy opera in a teahouse – Tai Long Fong teahouse

Part teahouse, part dumpling den, part jam session, this hidey-hole has been hosting impromptu opera performances for as long as anyone can remember. The rules are simple – pull up a seat at a table, order a tea (or a beer) and enjoy the show. While the band is always in residence, the line-up of performers is ever-changing as locals sip their tea awaiting their turn. Some are near-professionals, brushing up on acts between performances, others sound like wailing cats; either way it's a better gamble than playing the slots. 

TIP: Don't sit too close to the stage (locals like it loud).

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127-129 Rua de Cinco de Outubro, Macau historic centre. A minimum spend of $MOP50 on snacks and drink is considered a fair cover charge.

3. Head to the beach for a Portuguese feast – Miramar restaurant

Fun fact – highly urbanised Macau has beaches. Well, two beaches – Cheoc Van and Hac Sa, both on Coloane Island. An ever better surprise is that Hac Sa Beach boasts a Portuguese restaurant that would make any Mediterranean mama proud. Set back from the water, this home-style restaurant serves up clams with cream sauce, grilled sardines with potatoes, octopus in chilli and snails in olive oil. Jugs of sangria complete the experience. 

TIP: Request a table on the outside terrace.

See www.miramar.com.mo; Expect to pay about $MOP300 for a three-course meal.

4. Dine on Old World Portuguese dishes in Taipa Village – Antonio restaurant

If Antonio restaurant were a playing card it would be the ace of spades, trumping all others with its authentic food, flair and frolicking fun. Located down a cobbled lane in Taipa Village and headed by charismatic chef/owner Antonio Coelho, this little restaurant (Michelin–recommended no less) is famous for its baked goats' cheese with olive oil and acacia honey, clams cooked in lemon, garlic and white wine, and homemade chorizo flamed at your table. Surrounded by blue and yellow tiles and serenaded by a friend of the family singing Portuguese love songs, it's hard to believe you're in Asia. 

TIP: Start with a pre-dinner drink of white port, tonic, mint and ice.

See www.antoniomacau.com; Expect to pay $MOP450 for a three-course meal.

5. Sample Macanese food – Restaurante Litoral

When a Portuguese sailor met a Chinese cook  (and wanted to recreate dishes from home using ingredients found only in Macau) a new cuisine was born – Macanese – said to be the oldest type of fusion food in Asia. Add a dash of turmeric from India and a splash of piri piri from Mozambique and you have something special. One of the best places to sample this tantalising blend is at Restaurante Litoral, a frozen-in-time restaurant serving classics such as mashed potato soup, shrimp cakes, baked crab meat and African chicken. 

TIP: Don't miss the tomato sauce-based fried rice with black olives and chorizo.

261 R. do Alm. Sergio, Macau; Expect to pay about MOP$300 for a three-course meal.

6. Have a ball with curry fish balls – street snack

You'll see them on every corner in Macau's historic centre – skewers of brightly-coloured fish balls masquerading as lollipops. The yellow and white pinwheel ones have a fish roe centre, while the teardrop-shaped ones are as fluffy as marshmallows. After making your choice (pointing works a treat) the balls will be boiled in a broth, added to a takeaway cup and drowned in curry sauce. Use the sticks as skewers to pop the balls into your mouth while strolling through the old town.

TIP: A queue is the best indicator of quality. 

Cost about $MOP10

7. To market to market – Three Lamps district

Named for the three lamps in the centre of the Rotunda de Carlos da Maia (I counted four, but there you go) this bustling district has been a market site for more than 150 years, a remnant of the time when fertile fields ringed the city. While the narrow streets are overflowing with shops, tailors and boutique stores, it's the fresh food stalls and authentic street food that draw people back.  Grab some slices of barbecued pork, a freshly carved pineapple and a box of plump dumplings to create your own takeaway. 

TIP: Head to the nearby Lou Lim Leoc garden for a picnic.

Adjacent to rotunda de Carlos da Maia near Avenida de Horta e Costa

8. Enjoy a Spanish meal in a 17th-century Portuguese fortress – La Paloma

Signature paella at La Paloma in Macau.

Signature paella at La Paloma in Macau. Photo: Kerry van der Jagt

Far away from the casinos sits the remains of a citadel, a crumbling kingdom all of its own overlooking the waters of Macau harbour. What was once a fortress, built by the Portuguese in 1629 to defend Macau against pirates, was transformed in the late 70s into a Spanish hacienda-style boutique hotel known as Pousada De Sao Tiago. Today, the all-suite hotel's crowning glory is La Paloma, a quaint Spanish restaurant offering signature dishes such as Paella Valenciana and roasted loin of Iberico pork. 

TIP: Look for the small chapel of St James, built into the fortress in 1679. Weddings or blessing ceremonies can be arranged.

See www.saotiago.com.mo; tapas from $MOP124,  set tasting menus from $MOP1559 for two people.

9. Pub grub – Old Taipa Tavern 

Looking for some cool bars outside the major casinos and hotels? Give up now. It's just not the Macanese way. But if you want a convivial drink overlooking the village square in Old Taipa Village, where beer is on tap, the menu is best described as ''comfort food'' and the clientele a cosmopolitan mix of expats, casino staff and young locals, you've come to the right place. It's your after-work watering hole, where patrons spill out into the cobbled streets, watching the comings and goings of the historic village and enjoying the view over Pak Tai Temple. 

TIP: Make like a local and refer to the tavern by its nickname – OTT.

21 Rua dos Negociantes, Taipa Village. Draft beer $MOP40

10. Take a slow spin around Macau Tower – 360 Degree Cafe

As the name suggests, the revolving restaurant at the top of Macau Tower affords a 360-degree view over the city and surrounds. From the restaurant height of 223 metres the disparate parts of the region – Macau peninsula, the islands of Taipa and Coloane, Pearl River delta, the massive bridges, even mainland China – finally begin to make sense. Feast with your eyes during a buffet lunch or dinner featuring a mind-boggling array of Portuguese, Chinese, Indian and seasonal seafood dishes, or relax over high tea. If that sounds a little tame you can bungee jump from what is the world's highest jump from a standing building.

TIP: Dine at dusk and watch the casinos light up. 

See macautower.com.mo; dinner buffet with seafood platter $MOP480

The writer travelled as a guest of Macao Government Tourism Office, Cathay Pacific and The Parisian Macao

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