A Macanese food trip at Macau Restaurant

- Elvira Mata () - June 26, 2002 - 12:00am
Macau Restaurant in Makati brings a surprise the moment you walk through the door. The interior in this second branch at Glorietta 4 is hip and pretty, and feels a little intimate despite its size. Everything, from the fish trap-inspired lamps on the ceiling to the simple tables and chairs, calls you to eat. The menu holds plenty of Macanese dishes, like African Chicken, Salmon Head Curry or Stir-Fried Bacalhau, and it also offers pasta dishes, such as Spaghetti with Portuguese Beef Sauce, Spaghetti with Stir Fry Beef or Pork and Black Pepper.

To understand what Macanese cuisine is all about, a geography lesson is in order: Located 65 kilometers from Hong Kong, Macau is a former trading center for spices and a melting pot for Portuguese and Chinese cultures and cuisine. The Portuguese settlers brought with them sweet potatoes, peanuts, and kidney beans from Brazil, piri-piri peppers from Africa, chilis from India, and codfish, coffee, and vegetables from Europe. In turn, the Chinese introduced rhubarb, celery, ginger, soy sauce, lychees, and other Asian foods. The result is Macanese cuisine, which is not found elsewhere in the world.

George N. Pua is the man responsible for bringing Macanese cuisine in Manila. George, whose background is economics, business and love for food, works for a company which imports chocolates. He also owns Tony Roma’s.

George used to go to Hong Kong all the time and would stay at the Hyatt Hotel. Behind the hotel is this eatery called Macau Restaurant, a franchise of the original in Macau. Every time he passed by, he noticed a long line of people.

"Before lunch pila, during lunch, pila, after lunch, pila pa rin. One day, I decided to line up myself. But I couldn’t wait so I jumped queue, pretending I was going to order takeout. I was able to get a seat. When I was eating, I thought, hmmm… not bad. So I ate there a few times, and even brought friends. Everyone loved the food, " he recalls.

A year later, George asked the GM of Tony Roma’s in Hong Kong to find out the contact person of Macau Restaurant, because he was interested in setting up a branch in Manila.

Macau Restaurant first opened in SM Manila in 2000. Unlike his success with Tony Roma’s, it didn’t exactly take Manila by storm. When his lease expired, he decided to open in another location – Eastwood City Walk in Libis. It was a quiet opening, but not for long. Hungry people started to come in droves by sheer word of mouth.

George was so happy with the popularity of Macau in Libis that two months ago he opened Macau in Makati, this time on the second floor of Glorietta 4-Ayala Center, near the entrance to Oakwood Premier.

He invited us to sample Macanese cuisine and to explain that their food is authentic lutong Macau, but never lutong makaw or half-cooked.

"Our food is good and we’re reasonably priced. A party of four would typically spend P400 to P500 for four dishes, fried rice and they’d bring home leftovers in a doggy bag. We also maintain the quality of our food. Our Filipino chefs went on a two-month training in Macau. We also have a Macanese chef assigned in each restaurant to supervise and maintain quality of the food," George explains.

So the food served in Libis and Makati tastes just as good as in Macau and Hong Kong but with a difference – the food here is cheaper. Also, in Macau, diners are given a choice between rice and plain pasta. In Hong Kong, they choose between rice and Chinese noodles. Filipinos eat everything with rice. Spaghetti is usually taken with sauce, thus the special spaghetti menu, not found in either Macau or Hong Kong.

Regulars of Macau Restaurant never tire of consistent best-sellers Macau Fried Rice and Lapu-Lapu Fillet. The fried rice comes in six variants: plain, seafood, bacalhau, pineapple-seafood, mixed vegetables and curry. The perfect match for the complexity of Portuguese fried rice is the simplicity of Lapu-Lapu Fillet, served tender, juicy and flavorful.

My favorite though, is the Portuguese Vegetable Curry. I love Indian food and swear by Indian curry. But Macau’s Portuguese curry has a subtle flavor which doesn’t overpower the vegetables. I love it! They should bottle the curry and sell it. I could put it over rice, mix it with pasta, spread it on pandesal

George is also proud of his Baked Cauliflower in Cream Sauce with Cheese Macau Spring Rolls. The cauliflower is imported, so is the Portuguese sausage sprinkled generously on top. He also recommends the crab which is deep-fried with crispy garlic or my favorite Singapore Chili Crab.

"We have nine ways of cooking crab at a flat price of P380 for each 700-gram crab," he says.

Baked rice dishes are like rice toppings. Very popular is the Breaded Porkchop in Brown Onion Sauce. Fried rice is put in a clay pot, then topped with deep-fried breaded porkchop, brown onion sauce and grated cheese. It is baked for 10 minutes until the cheese melts. This is a full meal and can feed two at the startling price of P120.

Simple but delicious is pata tim, a plate of pork leg, marinated and simmered in a light sauce. The Baked Crispy Chicken is quite tasty. Marinated and deep fried in a special sauce, the skin is crispy and the flesh juicy. A favorite among die-hard Macanese food trippers is the African Chicken, a dish that relies more on technique than anything. The chicken is dabbed with a hint of coating, and then fried crisp. Served on a hot plate, it tastes spicy and exotic.

Next time you feel like taking a food trip, discover Macau Restaurant in Makati. The menu is diverse, the food excellent, and prices are reasonable so shoppers, business execs and tourists keep coming back.
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Macau Restaurant is on the second floor of Glorietta 4, Ayala Center, Makati City, with tel. nos. 814-09-45 and 814-09-52. Macau Restaurant is also at the Eastwood City Walk, Libis, Quezon City, with tel. nos. 421-11-71 and 421-11-72. It is open from 11 a.m. to 12 midnight.
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