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Posts from the ‘Macau’ Category

How Not to Eat a Pork Chop Bun in Macau

Food-wise, Macau is known for egg tarts, jerky,
suckling pig and pork chop buns–at least those are my  associations. On my
previous two visits to the former Portuguese colony Tai Lei Loi Kei's well-known pork chop
bun eluded me because it's one of those classic chowhoundish follies: off the
main tourist drag, super-specific hours, long lines and daily sell-outs. I
never made it over to Taipa Village.

Except that now the tourist-packed enclave abutts the ever-expanding
casino district, Cotai  (a portmanteau of the two neighboring areas: Coloane and Taipa) that barely
existed when I was in Macau in 2008. It
also turned out that hallowed Tai Lei Loi Kei was right across the street (granted,
a major multi-lane thoroughfare) from the sprawling Galaxy complex where I
staying (and wasn't allowed to see the world's largest rooftop wave pool because of post-typhoon storms, not even a peek) an exemplary illustration of the collision of old and new/local
culture and Americanization that I enjoy so much. And yet I still did not get my
Tai Lei Loi Kei bun…

The internet is rife with misleading information (and not
just from trolly hurricane douches). Tai Lei Loi Kei hadn't closed and it
hadn't moved into The Venetian. Accuracy, people.

Venetian tai lei loi kei

Uh, not yet, at least.

Lord stow's venetian macau

There was a Lord Stow's Bakery, however–another example
of a once small local business (selling egg tarts, in this case) getting modern
and mall-y. They also have branches in Japan, Korea and the Philippines.

Venetian macau food court

The casino food court was highly impressive, though,
with the same false summer blue sky and gondola-filled canals as in Las Vegas–just a hell of a lot
bigger overall. Seriously. The biggest in the world with 546,000 square feet vs. Vegas'
measly 120,000.

Exterior mcsorley's ale house macau

Plus, there was a frat-free McSorley's that kind of
blew my American-brands-abroad-loving  mind.

Taipa walkway

So, the morning before heading back to Hong Kong we
took the hotel's free shuttle bus to Taipa Village, which was, yes, just across
the street. They don't make it easy for pedestrians in a lot of modernizing cities,
which is why there was also a shuttle bus to The Venetian, across another
street on the other side. Maybe the oppressive humidity and sudden bursts of
rain also contribute to the aversion to walking? (Keep in mind that 99% of the tourists are Chinese, not the stereotypically lazy, blobby Americans everyone hates.)

San hou lei pork chop sandwich

 Thinking I was shit out of luck on Tai Lei Loi Kei, original
spot shuttered and not yet open in The Venetian, I sought out San Hou Lei (one of
many other pork chop bun purveyors–they're not that scarce) and ended up with
a pork chop sandwich on crustless white bread instead. Language barriers, they are

San hou lei exterior

There were some cute howling cats pacing in the front of the cafe, though (sadly, you can't see them with the window glare).

I want this cat shirt

On the subject of cats, a souvenir-shopper down the street had a shirt that I wanted.

Cat in a monkey shirt

Not to be confused with a cat in a shirt I
encountered in Bangkok a few days later. But this is about Macau.

Pork chop bun stand

There was a curry pork chop bun stall along the main
shopping arcade with a name I couldn't read because it was only in Chinese.

Curry pork chop bun

The sandwiches couldn't be more simple: a thin grilled
pork chop, this version sprinkled with curry powder, on a Portuguese roll. I add chile oil to mine. Unlike the McRib, there are actually bones in the cutlet.

Kafelaku coffee

Next door was a cafe selling civet poop coffee. I
couldn't taste anything radical in this expensive $6 cup, but when presented
with the opportunity to try kopi luwak you must partake.

Kopi luwak beans

A container of beans cost the equivalent of $168. Pre-digested coffee does not come cheap.

After dawdling and trying two unintended pork
chops between bread, we realized we needed to get back to the hotel to catch a
shuttle to the ferry to make it to Hong Kong by 8pm (yes, pork chop buns are what caused me to miss my original reservation at The Chairman) and in the rush back
guess what we found, merely a block from the crosswalk (the only such
concession to walkers on the entire busy road) leading straight to The Galaxy? I would've gone on day 1 if knew it was so close (Google Maps couldn't find it).

Tai lei loi kei

Tai Lei Loi Kei, totally open, and well before 3pm,
the much publicized time when buns supposedly become available.  Internet, you lie. Partially out of fullness
and a little out of spite and heat exhaustion, I didn't even bother buying one. At this point I was
over Tai Lei Loi Kei.  I will never speak of Macanese pork chop buns again after this post.

Tai lei loi kei moving to venetian

a sign advertising a branch in The Venetian.

Robuchon a Galera

The first-ever Hong Kong and Macau Michelin guide was released the very week we were in those two places. It’s not as if I was going to rearrange my plans based on this new intel. As it turned out we already had reservations at two two-stars: Yung Kee and Hutong, and more felicitously, Robuchon a Galera, one of only two three-stars in the book (Lung King Heen, whose chef is profiled in this weekend’s Times is the other).

Robuchon a galera entrance

Do you think they’d doll up an entryway at a Parisian Robuchon in this manner? I did appreciate how seriously the Chinese took Christmas.

Anyone who knows anything about this oddly placed Robuchon in the gloriously overwrought, Liberache-style Hotel Lisboa knows that lunch is a staggering bargain. $200+ shark’s fin and abalone chef’s menus would be lost on me. The set lunch provides a sample of what the kitchen is capable of in five courses for a more palatable HK$ 538 ($69). Fewer courses are available for $42 and $54 but why limit yourself? We wanted the full appetizer, soup, fish, meat and dessert experience.

Hotel lisboa contraption
We also wanted the mildy seedy Hotel Lisboa experience, if only for one night, to soak in the ambience…and carcinogens. I would call bullshit on the Times’ currently popular third-hand smoke article, if it weren’t for the headache and chest pain-inducing properties of our room’s ashtray aroma. And then our first-hand smoking (I rarely smoke anymore, though just like not abiding dietary restrictions on vacation I also enjoy a cigarette or two when out of town) only upped the ante. My disappointment at not encountering any of the fabled Russian hookers hooker lingering in the lobbies and casinos was almost mitigated by the bedside wooden console that controlled the lights and played AM radio-quality Chinese stations.

The wine list was crazy. The hefty tome was bereft of bottles under three digits. No one around us even had alcoholic beverages, though. As we discovered on numerous dining occasions, Asians aren’t big drinkers. Even in casinos everyone sipped hot tea rather than booze. With Robuchon doing like the locals would’ve been a wise move. Two cocktails and two glasses of champagne nearly jacked our bill an extra $100 (and I naively said lunch would be my treat).

Robuchon a galera apple amuse

Apple granita amuse. Yes, that’s dry ice-induced smoke beneath the plate. Very dramatic.

Robuchon a galera foie gras & marinated mushrooms

Lightly smoked foie gras on top of marinated mushrooms with virgin olive oil. Though the thinly sliced fungus takes up more visual room than the curls of liver, the creamy foie gras, with yes, a hint of smoke, was the dominant ingredient.

Robuchon a galera japanese egg yolk ravioli

Japanese egg yolk in herb ravioli, watercress and warm sea urchin in its own juice. This was not my appetizer, but I’m including alternating photos for variety’s sake.

Robuchon a galera spicy crab bisque

Crab bisque spicy with Espelette pepper under aniseed emulsion. We both chose this saline soup and like pouring the smooth bisque over the foam ourselves. The crab meat-encrusted crackers were a nice accompaniment. I’m not sure what to make of the little blue gem on the tray, however.

Robuchon a galera seafood in coral broth

Scallop, squid and shrimp in coral broth and flavored with basil. I do not know what they mean by coral. You don’t actually cook with those sea polyps, do you? I just realized that I chose two creamy seafood courses in a row. I can’t help liking that rich, delicate combination. Last night I had $16 lobster ravioli at Carrabba’s, which tasted like what you’d expect from an Italian chain restaurant. The truly amazing thing about this three-star seafood medley is that it only cost $14, technically.

Robuchon a galera sea bass wtih beet jus

Back of sea bass on crispy skin with braised fennel and beetroot jus.

Robuchon a galera lamb rack with oriental fragrance

Roasted lamb rack with oriental fragrance, with samosas medley and coriander pesto. This was actually a lot of food, not tiny portions. Normally, I can power through a tasting menu but this lamb was so unctuous and rich that I had to pass off a number of slices to James (no, I can’t just leave food on the plate). What they call “Oriental fragrance” is Indian spicing: garam masala, coriander and cumin. The mini samosas were filled with a cheese-spinach blend. The off-white blob on the left is the famous impossibly buttery Robuchon potatoes that James has tried recreating at home. He ordered the beef because it came with potatoes and he thought he would get these. Instead, our server came over with a big dish of them and doled out a small spoonful on my plate while he received a different style of potato, altogether.

Robuchon a galera wagyu beef cheek

Braised “Wagyu” beef cheek, aromatic pepper with Dauphine-style creamed potatoes. Despite coming in an individual cast iron crock like the mashed potatoes did in Vegas, these were more like scalloped potatoes. James described the meat as tasting like Salisbury steak. The horror. I think he meant the soft texture, which I would call closer to pot roast. That’s what a cheek is like.

Robuchon a galera dessert trolly

Then came the big decision: dessert or cheese? I’d been savoried to death and we had been eyeballing the dessert trolley all afternoon.

Robuchon a galera dessert selection

I chose baba au rhum, caramel ice cream and a profiterole tower.

Robuchon a galera candy trolly

I knew there was an insane Willy Wonka-esque candy trolley in addition to the regular dessert cart and started fretting when I didn’t see it being rolled around. It was James who anxiously asked, “Isn’t there a candy trolley, too?” “Yes, it’s coming,” reassured our waitress, laughing a bit. We didn’t want to get short-changed on sugar. It didn’t go to every table, though, which made me wonder if you did have to ask for it. Or perhaps others had already had their fill and didn’t bother.

Robuchon a galera candy selection

We shared marshmallows, nougat and a lollipop. The choices were so overwhelming that when it came down to it I didn’t know what to pick.

Robuchon brush

I thought the padded purse stool was the most unnecessary but appreciated amenity until I discovered the cache of plastic-wrapped hairbrushes offered in the bathroom. I had to grab one because how often do you get a free hairbrush? Now that's a souvenir. At least I didn’t stuff bread into my purse.

Robuchon a Galera * Hotel Lisboa, 3/F, Av. da Amizade, Macau

Margaret’s Café e Nata

Of the three treats one might seek out in Macau, egg tarts were the only one I got to. Jerky is all over Hong Kong so I wasn’t worried, but I may regret not making time for a pork chop bun.

Margaret's cafe e nata

In a perfect world I would compare tarts from Lord Stow’s and Margaret’s. Coloane is a trek but Margaret’s was just down a little alley one block from the Hotel Lisboa where we stayed our last night. It feels hidden but there’s nothing secret about it. On a Sunday afternoon all of the outdoor seats were taken and there was a huddle (Chinese aren’t big on lining up, or rather queing as they like to say in both Singapore and Hong Kong with a nice Q reminder painted on the ground in front of taxi stands. As an aside, as much as Singaporeans are rigid rule followers, they totally don’t let riders off the subway before rushing on, an aberration to even the rudest New Yorker) of customers crammed into the small storefront waiting to be helped.

Egg tarts are a regular at Chinese bakeries. But the Hong Kong style uses a stiffer shortbread crust and the custard is smooth with an unblemished canary yellow top.

Margaret's egg tart

The Portuguese style favored in Macau (as well as Chinese KFCs) is slightly different, richer and more flavorful. These are wobbly custards encased in flaky, buttery puff pastry layers. The surfaces are burnt in spots and caramelized.

What I found surprising is that these goodies do not have a long tradition in Asia. From I understand they were brought to Macau in the '80s by an Englishman, Andrew Stow of Lord Stow's Bakery, and were meant to replicate pastéis de nata from Portugal, of course. This convoluted history makes perfect sense for such a culturally mixed island, somehow.

My only crime was not eating these while they were still warm, but I had just finished a multi course lunch at Galera a Robuchon across the street. Yes, you get them straight out of the oven and it’s worth braving the crowds for.

Margaret’s Café e Nata * Gum Loi Building, Rua Almirante Costa Cabral, Macau

A Lorcha

It was crazy to think we’d manage A Lorcha after a big late afternoon meal at Fernando’s, but since I never get up early enough for breakfast on vacation (or weekends ever) I at least have to get in two meals per day for maximum eating experience.

I missed my Saturday night reservation because I was jetlagged and couldn’t drag myself out of bed. I wasn’t particularly hungry Sunday evening either, still feeling the effects of a multi-course lunch at Robuchon a Galera, but Macanese food had to fit into the schedule, pathetic appetite or not.

A Lorcha is on the same strip as Restaurante Litoral, a restaurant similar in look and style–white stucco, dark wood beams and brick arches–that I tried in Macau previously. Both serve hearty fare in portions way too big for two to explore adequately. That probably explains why so many pushed together tables were occupied by extended families.

A lorcha pig ear salad

I’m always game for a pig’s ear salad and had no idea what to expect. The cold slices are definitely about texture, more cartilage than flavor. I was hoping all the little white bits weren’t raw garlic but they were. It was way overpowering and I’m not sure if that was intended or not. That’s not to say I disliked this dish; it was just very strong in all aspects, oily, vinegary, and not terribly meaty.

A lorcha macanese chicken

I would’ve tried the African chicken to compare it to Litoral’s but James insisted he didn’t like it last time. I don’t think that’s true. To appease, I ordered Macanese chicken to see what the difference would be. It turns out, I prefer the African chicken, which is a stiffer oilier curry. Macanese chicken is mild, stewy and coconut milk based with roughly chopped chicken pieces and potatoes chunks similar to a Malay kari ayam I later made in a Singaporean cooking class. It’s not too far from a Thai massamun curry either, if that’s more familiar.

I never know what to do with all the sauce and it seems wrong to eat potatoes and rice. This serving was enough of a meal by itself but I can’t justify eating only one dish for dinner, especially in a country I may never get to again.

A lorcha pork and clams

And I’m glad that I overindulged because the clams and pork were worth it. I love the uniquely Portuguese combination. Why not combine shellfish and meat? Clams are fine by themselves but sometimes you want something more substantial, and I guess, fatty. I was expecting little bits of pork but ratio between the two ingredients was almost equal.

I’m still not sure what makes food Macanese. Most of what I’ve encountered seems either Portuguese or sort of Malay or even Filipino (much of the staff and customers at both A Lorcha and Litoral were Filipino) not so much Chinese. I’m not feeling wild culinary fusing.

Of course I’m dying to try Macao Trading Co. which opened just before I left the country, despite being highly suspicious of the venture. I mean, in a way it’s kind of brilliant to sell a mishmash cuisine that most New Yorkers know nothing about in a rustically flashy setting. Maybe someone could sex up Guyanese food next? Interestingly, it looks like they’ve divided their menu up into Portuguese and Chinese versions of the same ingredients with little hybridism whatsoever.

A Lorcha * Rua do Almirante Sérgio 289, Macau


Update: I've heard downhill reports, but I wouldn't say that was the case on my July 2012 re-visit. But I would say that nothing's changed in three-and-a-half years. In fact, my new photos look practically the same as what's below but I feel the need to mention them in case anyone's interested. I imagine everything will look exactly the same in another three-and-a-half years too.

* * *

There was no way I was going to miss Fernando’s on this visit to Macau. After being thwarted by uncooperative cab drivers (after 30 minutes trying to flag one down) during a frustrating daytrip three years ago, I planned ahead this time.

What we hadn’t planned on was spending our first three nights of vacation on the former Portuguese colony. Originally, we intended to take the ferry from Hong Kong and back the Tuesday before heading back to NYC, just lunch and dinner. But we had to make an emergency change to our itinerary after arriving in Hong Kong Friday night with no connecting flight to Bangkok available (I’m still steamed that we had pay the full ticket price when we never got to our intended destination).

Rather than spend our entire two weeks in Hong Kong (a perfectly nice city but not for that long) we decided to regroup in nearby Macau and hoped to pick up the second leg of our Thailand journey after a few nights (way too optimistic). One downside was that while trying desperately to check hotels in the airport with wi-fi that cut out every few minutes, we found out that nearly everything was booked for the weekend or going at a premium. Not wanting to take a chance on a weirdo hotel, (hey, Macau is still kind of seedy despite it’s shiny Vegas aspirations) we went against our loose, unspoken budgetary rule (I don’t spend more than $200 per night on hotels and try to keep it under $150. Everything I’d booked in Bangkok was under $100 so this screwed up things completely. Yes, I am a tightwad.) and reserved a fairly luxurious, over the top, large scale, royal-hued semi-‘90s in feel room at the brand new Sofitel. After traveling for over 24 hours and by nearly all methods—plane, train, taxi and ferry—and stymied by already not having the vacation I’d planned for months, I just wanted to collapse on an enormous pile of down-filled pillows.

And eat suckling pig. By the next afternoon we were ready to tackle Fernando’s. And this time by public transportation. I’d learned my lesson about taxis. Catching a bus (21A or 26A if you care to replicate the route) from Senado Square is easy and at only five Patacas, (about 63 cents) an incredible bargain. The 45-minute ride to Coloane is scenic once you get past all the new casino construction in Taipa. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to finagle a seat (we got one half-way through) and relax during the windy drive to Hac Sa beach.

Fernando's bar

Though it was too cool to indulge in any sand or surf, the weather was just fine for having a drink in the backyard bar while waiting for a table. Oddly, there was no vino verde by the glass so I had to settle for house white. I was thrilled by the temperate, light jacket weather; the 60-something-degrees nearly erased my sweaty and cranky August 2005 memories. Even though both front and back rooms were filled around our 4pm arrival, we didn’t wait for more than 15 minutes. I’d heard service-related horror stories, and sure, the staff all but ignores you, but I’ve had much brusquer and careless treatment in NYC.

Fernando's backyard

It’s fair to call Fernando’s touristy but since that includes mainland Chinese, Hong Kongers, Australians and not really any Americans with fannypacks, I was ok with it. This was the only place I ever heard a Spanish accent the entire vacation (Latinos just don’t go to Asia it seems) from a young Mexican woman with a German boyfriend sitting next to us.

Fernando's portuguese rolls

Warm Portuguese rolls are a must. The old lady sitting on the other side of us stuffed a few of these yeasty behemoths into her purse. Practically every restaurant in Singapore and Hong Kong that offered foil-wrapped butter served New Zealand’s Anchor brand, and we also encountered a New Zealand ice cream chain in malls. Apparently, New Zealand is the Wisconsin of Southeast Asia.

Fernando's chorizo

Portuguese choriço isn’t loose and fresh like Mexican-style or even quite like the firmer cured Spanish version. These links were salty, paprika-spiked and chunkier textured in the casing with charcoal tinged edges. Being way too much for two, we made like our table neighbor and James stuffed our leftovers in his bag. This came in handy as a meaty midnight snack when I fell asleep back in the hotel by 7pm, still jetlagged and unable to stay awake for a dinner (the pitcher of sangria didn’t help). I’m never able to stay awake on the second day in Asia. I’m still mourning the hot pot dinner I never got in Beijing because I couldn’t get out of bed.

Fernando's suckling pig

Ok, sucking pig is the reason to come to Fernando’s. And while well-traveled foodies might scoff, claiming better pork and Portuguese cuisine elsewhere in Macau, I was impressed and my view wasn’t just colored by the journey and rustic trappings. For one, the meat tastes richer, and for lack of a better word, porkier, than what I’m accustomed to in the U.S. I could only eat a few pieces when normally a couple of slices wouldn’t seem satisfying enough.

The skin is the star. Sure, it’s crispy, but tissue paper thin rather than bubbly and thick like chicharron or lechon. Biting into the burnished exterior is almost like cracking a crème brulee with a nice layer of fat beneath the shell instead of custard.

Fernando's clams

Clams are sautéed in wine, and are perfectly edible. I would rate this dish higher if I hadn’t had such an amazing clam and pork rendition the following night at A Lorcha.

With my first meal in Asia being a glitch-free success, I had renewed hope for the rest of the vacation.

Fernando’s * Praia de Hac Sa 9, Macau

Restaurante Litoral

1/2I knew little to nothing about Macanese food before setting out for the little island, and my knowledge is now merely slightly broader. We only got to eat one meal due to transportation woes, language difficulties and a general inhospitable vibe from the city. I'm sure its a fun place if you know what youre doing, which we apparently did not.

My original plan was a beachy sunset suckling pig at Fernandos but we couldnt figure out how to get to Coloane. Buses were confusing, a taxi took nearly an hour to track down and refused to take us, I wasnt about to hop on the back of a motorbike as locals were doing (very Thai, its easy to judge the wealth of a country by the motorbike to car ratio. Malaysia had plenty, Hong Kong and Singapore not at all). We were screwed. Getting a cab back to the ferry so we could get the hell out of Macau was tough enough.


But the afternoon started out well with an easy jaunt to Restaurante Litoral. I'd never given it much thought, but the Chinese-Portuguese crisscross cuisine is kind of Filipino in ways. I'm pretty sure our waitresses were speaking Tagalog, too. The décor was Spanish with whitewashed walls, dark wood beams, a tropical hacienda.

We were accidentally served a dried sausage and olive appetizer that belonged to someone else. By the time the error was discovered wed both taken bites and were happy to keep it for ourselves. We tried a pretty Portuguese dish of bacalao with potatoes and massive amounts of garlic and olive oil.


African chicken was my pick since it seemed like a good example of the natural Latin-Asian fusion (the African part, I'm not sure about). Lush orange oil pooled around the chicken and was perfect for soaking up with the fried potato rounds served alongside, and crusty Portuguese rolls. The overall taste is sweet, spicy and incredibly rich (I didnt think fat content once while on vacation) which isn't surprising considering the coconut milk, peanut butter and chicken skin had all been simmering and gathering goodness. African chicken also often contains five-spice powder, rosemary, and as you can see in the photo, sweet pickles.

[I had the urge to revise history after  randomly re-reading this post. I researched African chicken and found a great Wall St. Journal article on the dish that strangely was published today, February 29, 2008.]

We had enough food for an entire family and I felt guilty not being able to eat much of it (we were still saving our appetites for suckling pig later–if I'd only known) so we took it to go, which was kind of weird. I carted the bag around all day and night and ultimately we left it in our hotel, which I'm sure pleased the cleaning staff. Still, salt cod is less stinky than durian.

Restaurante Litoral * 261A Rua do Almirante Sérgio, Macau