Dan Holzman is the co-founder of The Meatball Shop in New York City.
Last year, I joined a group of chefs traveling to Macau in celebration of their induction as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. Macau was the first Chinese territory opened to the west when Ming China leased it to the Portuguese Empire as a trading post in 1557. The territory, just south of Hong Kong, was returned to the Chinese government in 1999, but the food remains the oldest example of fusion cuisine in the world. In addition to the Portuguese influence, there are spices and techniques borrowed from the trade route stops in India, Africa, and Malaysia all represented in the food—a chef’s dream come true.
Famous for its gambling casinos, Macau’s rich history, cuisine, and culture are often overlooked, so I was excited to see the whole city and get a feel for every day life. Everything from the food markets to the Portuguese cobblestone (brought over as ballast in the hulls of freight ships) that lined streets and quaint neighborhoods did not disappoint.
There’s a magical feeling of mystery throughout the city, something so familiar in its western heritage, yet distinctly Chinese at the same time. Macau is small in size (only about 11 square miles and just a little over 600,000 in population), but there’s plenty to see—my four-day trip barely scratched the surface. I look forward to returning and exploring more next time I’m on the other side of the world.
A traditional breakfast of fish ball soup with braised pork shoulder and intestines, meatballs, fish cakes, and rice noodles at Loja Canja Lok Fu. The chef/owner of the restaurant was 92 years old and still cooks every morning.
The indoor dining room at Miramar, one of the biggest and best Portugese restaurants on Taipa Island.
The ticket rail at a local restaurant. When orders come in, they’re pinned up on the line for the cooks to prepare.
Small shrines adorn the streets throughout the city. Most business have small shrines on their gates for protection and bringing good fortune. This one was situated in the corner of a deserted alley.
View from Asa De Cha Long Wa, a dim sum tea parlor and bird hotel. We enjoyed a casual breakfast and reading lounge, where patrons collect snacks from carts distributed through the dining room. Birds and bonsais are boarded here during visitors' vacations, filling the room with wondrous sights and sounds.
Curing a headache can be a complicated affair for the untrained Westerner. Luckily for me, they sold Advil in addition to traditional apothecary wares.
When it rains it pours. A shopkeeper at the pharmacy waits for the downpour to lighten (and for his customers to return).
Fishing shacks built on stilts sell dried scallops, sardines, and anchovies just outside the airport.
The Grand Lisbon Hotel is one of the old classic casinos. The tower is a landmark in the city, visible from most everywhere, helping orient the uninitiated.
The casinos of Macau are the richest in the world and compete to outdo each other with the most spectacular lobby. This bear was sitting on a 40-foot ferris wheel made completely of fresh flowers in the lobby of the Wynn Hotel.
A couple takes a walk across the garden of Vasco de Gama beneath the Hotel Royal in Central Macau’s residential St. Lazarus Parish.
Beware the dogs. Unbeknownst to me, this boy was protecting the pawn shop and gave me a start when I offered my hand. He lunged, teeth gnarled to bite me.
Cats are the acting exterminators in most shops around the city.
LCM Shop of Canned Macau sells sardines from around the world, a sister store to the famous sardine shop of Lisbon.
Wait for it—lifting the lid of the cauldron too early will let out the steam, and the pot stickers won't be properly cooked through. Look for the lady wrapping the crispy steamed meat filled treats in the background to ensure they’re house made, fresh to order. This was taken near the Ruins of St. Paul's on Francisco Xavier Street.
Behind the casinos, the night comes to life on pawnshop-lined streets, ready to loan you cash to lose or sell you jewels for your winnings.
A pond filled with lilies, the protected national flower of Macau, is the last vestige of nature from the onslaught of growth.
Steamed octopus awaits further preparation at Coloane Village. There's a lot to do in the early morning hours before customers arrive.
Tropical kitchens can be a sweltering affair, even with the breeze from the nearby sea drawing the steam offshore.
A curry fish ball vendor, Rua Dos Clerigos on Taipa Island, proudly presents her squid skewers. Curry fish balls are one of the city's unique examples of fusion cuisine. Curry spice was brought from India on the trade routes.
Dried or fried, a prepared fish hawker sells to restaurants and patrons in the Red Market, Macau’s oldest central food market. When I asked why it’s called the "Red Market," I was met with an obvious gesture toward the red lamps hanging above the vendors.
Shopping in the rain, a woman eyes the roast poultry vendor as she scurries home before the typhoon in St. Lasarus Parish.
The busy city empties as the typhoon warning was raised to level eight.