Over the weekend, we made a short day trip to Macau, a settlement much like Hong Kong under China rule but effectively an autonomous country on it's own, a Special Administration Region. So, like Hong Kong, Macau is part of China, but isn't considered China. Macau has its own currency, although, they also accept Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) and they seem synonymous with the Macau Pataca Dollar (MOP), or widely known as the Macanese Pataca.
We've read online that you can indeed use HKD but you'd expect to receive change in MOP. Similar to Central America where you can pay with USD. Yet, it is only partially true because, in most of the instances we've received change back in the currency we paid with. I think it helps that HKD and MOP is only different by a 0.03 value. So most take it dollar for dollar.
Macau is very unique. It has 4 official languages - one of them a dialect. Cantonese is widely spoken, followed by Mandarin. The other two official languages are English and, believe it or not, Portuguese. Public street names are mainly in Portuguese, as well as public signages in all 4 languages.
Macau is made up on two parts, like Hong Kong. Referred to as the Macau Peninsula and the southern island connected via several bridges, further divided into Taipa, Cotai, Coloane. The peninsula is home to historical sites such as the Ruins of St Paul's, Monte Fort, Museu de Macau (Macao Museum) and Senado Square. We spent the first half of our day combing the streets of Senado square for local eats, checking out the historical sites and visited the museum up at Monte Fort. That's where we learnt about the rich history of Chinese and Portuguese culture blending into what we know as Macau today. The Portuguese made permanent settlement in 16th Century, a pivotal time in history, developing Macau as a major settlement of trade and commerce.
The Macao Museum is within the grounds of Mount Fortress/Monte Fort. Totally recommend a visit. Entrance fee to the museum is only HKD$15 and you can take your time to browse and read about the history of this unique city. It is a small museum and won't take more than 2 hours even if you really take your time. If you do intend to visit this place, do note that Monte Fort is up on a hill to the right of Ruins of St Paul's as you walk up the massive flight of stairs. There are two ways up the Monte Fort. Stairs on one side and a hidden set of escalators which are towards the left as you walk towards the fort. Just take the left most path, which will seem hidden but just keep taking the left path up some platforms and stairs and you will end up with escalators leading you to the top of the fort. Otherwise, you will be stuck with stairs upon stairs upon stairs. Which was what we took because we followed the signs to the right like everybody else. So if you want to avoid the stairs, remember to keep left.
Taipa and Cotai is home to South China's mini Las Vegas casino strip. Bright lights flood and light up the city skyline as major casinos of Las Vegas fame are replicated as seductive as sin city itself. The ever famous Venetian Hotel is perfectly mirrored inside and outside. Other Las Vegas style hotels and casinos are also peppered across parts of Cotai and Macau Peninsula. Here you can experience a little bit of Vegas without going the distance. We took a ferry from Hong Kong which was just an hour ride. Vegas right at Asia's doorstep. We took the Turbojet costing us about HKD$180 one way from Kowloon to Macau Peninsula. Macau is a perfect combination for anyone visiting Hong Kong as a day trip add-on. We were told one could spot asian celebrities in Macau. We didn't have such luck that day though.
We took the public bus everywhere we went and it was quite the ride. It only costs something like HKD$3.20 but hang on to your hats and loved ones. I have to quote what a friend said recently about his trip to India about taxi drivers.
"The default hand position in India on the steering wheel is neither 9-3 or 10-2. It is 12-horn."
This was every bus driver in Macau. Impatient and amplified by the bad traffic, they horn every 5 seconds or every 200 metres or so. And, if you are getting off the bus, make sure you are at the door ready to eject. Buses are just packed with people with standing room only. The door might just close on you if you are too slow trying to get past other commuters. Which, was what happened to me. On another instance, I watched helplessly as an elderly lady barely got her foot off the bus and the bus was already moving off before the doors could even close. Makes Hong Kong bus drivers seem saintly.
Macau is famous for its Portuguese egg tarts. Slightly different in texture compared to famous Hong Kong ones from the likes of Tai Cheong where its tofu smooth egg curd sits perfectly within a symmetrically round tart, every tart a perfect replica of the other. Portuguese egg tarts are a lot less pretty and more organic in style, a lighter pastry than the Hong Kong egg tarts. The egg curds are light, fluffy with a slightly more crumbly texture sitting inside a flaky pastry cup usually with crisp burnt edges. The top of the egg tart usually has a toasted caramel surface much like a creme brûlée. There is something very familiar with this egg tart for me. It brought me back to a time when I went on a school trip to Melaka in Malaysia, just few hours drive from Singapore. It was first in Melaka that I had my first taste. Melaka as it turns out, is also another part of Asia with a very similar Portuguese history and influence.
It was a lot of walking that day. Which was great because we ate a lot of nonsense in bits and bites. Local Bak Kwa (sweet BBQ pork slices, the asian pork jerky), curry fishballs... not everything was memorable. The egg tart was the only thing worth remembering.
Although, I will always remember my first bite into that fateful famed macau pork chop bun. Deep fried marinated pork chop inside a white crusty bun. What a fantastic combo... except, nothing sends as much pain to your head with a momentary toothache when you bite into a chunk of pork bone. Yeah, the sandwich comes with a pork chop with bone. Why? The meat was also nothing fantastic as it was served cold looking like it came out of the fridge, pale and thawed. A very different picture from what was displayed. One should never trust illustrated suggestions. I was so traumatised by my bad luck that day, that, by dinner, I opted for the safe choice of thin egg noodles soup with spam and eggs. Yes, that's on the menu and it's also staple in Hong Kong local eats.
Eventually, we ended the day off with Macca's. I had me a double cheeseburger and it hit the spot. It was just not my day on the food front. Better luck next time.
Asian Australian food adventures in and out of the kitchen. Around the world. Like an oyster searching for it's pearl.