Saturday, January 24, 2009
As China's lesser known SAR, sometimes I can't help but feel a little sorry for Macau because I have no doubt that it has enough character to hold its own against Hong Kong. A former Portuguese colony, the city has done so much to preserve its historic architecture that the Historical Centre of Macau, a collection of over twenty locations, including the Ruins of St. Paul's (or Ruínas de São Paulo - isn't Portuguese awesome?) pictured above, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In recent years though, foreign casino resort companies such as Sands and MGM Mirage have poured money into the city, hoping to transform it into "Asia's Las Vegas", giving Macau's landscape an interesting clash of classic beauty and somewhat-gaudy extravagance.
We also saw this on the food front; although we spent most of our time trying Portuguese-influenced Chinese foods like Macanese egg tarts, we also indulged ourselves at a few fancy hotel eateries.
Macau is just an hour by boat from Hong Kong, and because my great-uncle drives one of these boats, we were able to score some cheap tickets and access to a private VIP room. We also didn't have to pay for hotel rooms, as my aunt has a vacation property there (yeah family hookups!) After dropping off our stuff, we grabbed some taxis to Senado Square (Largo do Senado), a good starting point to see the historical parts of Macau.
We decided to stop in Wong Chi Kei (黃枝記), a restaurant known for its handmade noodles, for lunch.
I ordered the signature wonton noodles, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The noodles were nice and springy and the wontons were filled with shrimpy goodness. My dad decided to be a "baller" and ordered the crab and scallop congee, another "signature" dish, and one of the most expensive items on the menu. It was good, but I find that removing crab meat from its shell is such a fuss... fortunately my dad (who used to do this sort of thing in a restaurant kitchen as a young boy) was willing to help us all out. My mom was really pumped that there was blanched fish skin at the restaurant (you can find it fried in most places). I expected it to be soft, like the skin on steamed fish, but this skin was very thick and chewy though not in a disgusting way.
After lunch we made our way toward the Ruins of St. Paul's and passed by many stalls selling Macanese specialties like almond cookies and pork chop buns. Though I was feeling pretty full, I couldn't resist a Macanese/Portuguese egg tart for dessert.
Portuguese egg tarts differ from regular egg tarts in that the former's filling has been caramelized on top. I didn't really notice a difference taste-wise in the filling, and the caramelization actually left a sort of "skin" on top of the custard. What was really good was the pastry - you can even see the flakiness in the photo!
After making our way up Mount Fortress (Fortaleza do Monte) to check out the cannons and the views there, we went back down the mountain to kill more time in the tourist areas before supper.
Another popular tourist attraction in Macau are its "souvenir" bakeries, that sell goodies like almond cookies, ginger candy, peanut candy, nougat, and jerky wrapped up in pretty packaging for visitors to take home. This ad that was playing in Hong Kong all through the holiday season (and still on sometimes now) is for one of such stores, and also does a good job name-dropping some Macau attractions (in Chinese).
After seeing this ad I really wanted to like Soler, the twin act featured in this ad, but their singing voices get a little too nasally for my taste when performing their own songs. As convincing as this ad was for Choi Heong Yuen (咀香園), I was quickly told that Koi Kei (鉅記) has overtaken it (and all other competitors) by leaps and strides.
And why not? While Choi Heong Yuen seemed desolate even though one of its locations is right on the steps of the Ruins of St. Paul's, all the branches of Koi Kei I saw were always bustling with activity, with salespeople shoving various snacks in your face for you to try, and employees making fresh peanut candies and ginger candies (see above) right at the front of the store. My sister fell in love with the almond cookies (I did too), and we also stocked up on lots of other candy for ourselves and as gifts.
We had supper at the Grand Buffet at the Grand Lisboa. I definitely underestimated just how grand the Grand Buffet would be. By the time I'd filled my first plate (albeit with a bowl of soup in the centre), I looked up and realized I still couldn't see the end of the buffet line!
I had a Chinese medicinal chicken soup, tempura, Hawaiian chicken, and some vegetables hiding behind my soup bowl.
For my second round, I was determined to see the end of the line. I was already beginning to feel full though, so I had to skip the freshly blanched shrimp, dim sum, Chinese BBQ, and teppan yaki sections. I would've skipped the Indian food section too, but couldn't resist having a bit of korma.
Clockwise from korma: Japanese salad, sashimi, fresh oyster, roast that was a little too rare for my taste, broccoli with egg whites, crayfish, more veg. Even after *this* plate was full I had to walk a little bit of ways to see that there were salads (at the end of the line?) as well as a second dessert area (there was another one across from the buffet table at the beginning of the line.)
For my third plate I purposely grabbed a dessert plate because I was just so darn full. Still couldn't resist to get my hands on some beets (though canned), and the beef carpaccio was ok too. Grabbed some fruit, and just had to dip some pineapples in the chocolate fountain!
I was hoping that my third plate would be my last, but my brother's girlfriend pressured me into getting a crepe, which I ruined with some weird-tasting apple sauce. I also couldn't help grab some cute, colourful macarons, but unfortunately they reminded me of Froot Loops.
Overall, there wasn't really anything super-outstanding about the food, but for a buffet, the quality was good and (obviously) the quantity was astounding. I must mention as well that the decor was also really nice.
The next morning, we walked over to the Crown Hotel (just a few blocks away from my aunt's apartment) for dim sum on one of my other aunt's recommendation. The restaurant, Ying, was decorated as elaborately as what you'd expect from "Asia's Las Vegas", with red and gold accents everywhere, including gold string curtains that separated each table. It lacked the crowds of more popular hotels like the MGM Grand and the Venetian, making for quite a classy experience.
I regret not taking many photos, but we all enjoyed the food there, including my brother, a known dim sum/Chinese food hater, which is saying something. (Yes, I'm wondering how anyone could hate dim sum and Chinese food too.)
We spent the day visiting tourist sites like the very artificial Fishermen's Wharf and the Macau Tower. The latter had a café where my family had a bit of an afternoon tea, and though we didn't try any, their pastries looked amazing.
Afterwards, we grabbed cabs to the Venetian and walked around the unfathomably large mall there (made even more confusing by the fact that all the sections looked the same) before deciding to head to Rua do Cunha, a street known for its food shops to find a place for supper.
We ended up choosing Casa de Pasto Seng Cheong (誠昌飯店), which is known for its seafood and counts many Hong Kong stars as frequent customers. I unfortunately didn't take any photos so I don't really remember what we ate, except I do know that we didn't order the signature crab congee and opted for frog legs congee instead. Overall, the meal just wasn't very exciting.
After supper we decided to kill some time before grabbing our boat back to Hong Kong. I just could not resist trying serradura, which translates into "sawdust" one way or another in Portuguese, and is actually ice cream with crushed tea biscuit crumbs on top.
It was nice to end the trip on a sweet note, despite getting seasick again on the way back.
Wong Chi Kei (黃枝記)
17 Largo do Senado
(853) 2533 1313
The Grand Buffet (自助山)
2/F, Grand Lisboa Macau, Avenida de Lisboa
(853) 8803 7733
11/F, Crown Hotel, Avenida de Kwong Tung
(853) 2886 8868
Casa de Pasto Seng Cheong (誠昌飯店)
28-30 Rua do Cunha
(853) 2882 5323