Food and Leisure

Lutong Macau

Mary Ann Quioc Tayag - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Every October, the birth month of our late mom, we plan a family gathering.  We are not a big family but getting us all together is more complicated than getting hubby Claude’sTayag clan of over 50 together.  How we celebrate depends mainly on our budget and enthusiasm, from a simple breakfast to a few nights in nearby Clark. One time we all just decided to go to Manila and eat in Ma Mon Luk, mom’s favorite noodle house.  Once both the schedule and budget are good, we grab the chance to go out of the country.  Fortunately, tickets and hotels are at promo rates in October.  Also the weather is always better.  

One of our most enjoyable was our Macau trip, maybe because we know our mom had good holidays in Macau when I was still working and living in Hong Kong. Though I am much more familiar with Hong Kong (having lived there for 18 years), I now prefer Macau.  Airfares, hotel accommodations and food are always a lot cheaper and the Macanese are friendlier, more so because I love Portuguese food, especially the sardines, bacalao and seradura dessert. I have not found, though, a good dim sum place in Macau.  So that is one downside, and Hong Kong, of course, has better shopping, but then I do not enjoy shopping.

For this trip, we agreed to try other restaurants and dishes. Our first morning, hubby Claude, being the earliest riser, scoured the vicinity for a good lunch place.  He found a local Macanese eatery on the second floor of a building, a few steps from our hotel, Holiday Inn.  It had no English name but it is very easy to find it. Just look for the building with its walls entirely covered with very delicious photos of so many dishes.  

Inside the walls are also covered with same food photos, making ordering a lot easier and faster. We didn’t need to talk to the restaurant staff; we did not even have to ask each other what to order.  We were just ordering all we fancied by pointing at the wall. We had over 10 dishes and all were really good.  We paid an average of P500 each.  The same food would have cost us at least three times more in Hong Kong. 

The following day, we went back for lunch and ordered the other dishes on the wall. Yes, it was that good and worth a second time. 

The Lisboa hotel is always a nice stop.  It serves the best and very reasonably priced Yang Chow fried rice in Macau.  Back in the ’80s, when there was just Lisboa Casino, the fried rice was the favorite food of the locals, and the gamblers especially during the wee hours of the morning.  We would also eat the fried rice coming from the bars to make us sober.  

In Lisboa, we saw the world’s biggest diamond in the lobby.  Also on exhibit was a bronze sculpture of world-renowned Taiwanese Ju Ming of a man in a tai chi pose.  The bronze sculpture was cast from a Styrofoam model, “sculpted” using a chainsaw to cut through a Styrofoam block. They always have something interesting on display in the lobby.

A visit to Macau is never complete without enjoying its famous egg tarts.  The story is that the original recipe belonged to Margaret Stowe, a Portuguese lady who married Englishman Lord Stowe.  Together their egg tart business became very successful. And when they parted ways, the brand Lord Stowe went to the husband.   Margaret opened her own charming shop called Café e Nata, which also enjoys brisk business now. I do not know if the story is true, but somehow it makes me like the Café e Nata tarts more than Lord Stowe’s. 

For serious and discriminating shoppers, the Venetian Hotel has all the high-end brands.   I personally enjoyed the Lagro de Senado (Senado Square). Most of the shops in Hong Kong are also in this square.  Its Mediterranean ambiance with a pebbled plaza and walkway becomes enchanting by nighttime when the lights reflect on the pastel-colored buildings.  

At the entrance of the square, there’s an old Catholic Church.  I overheard a local guide tell his Caucasian tourists that the two different countries that colonized Macau occupied the church twice.  But now, he said, it has been “conquered” by Filipinos.  Once inside, I saw Filipino tourists and residents come in for a short prayer. Thanks to us Filipinos for we fill up the churches and cathedrals all over the world.   

On my mother’s birthdate, we left the hotel early to hear the 6 a.m. Mass.  I surprised my two sisters when I handed them one Lacoste cardigan each, which they recognized right away. Mom had three in different colors. For many years I’ve had them and use them whenever I miss her.  There is nothing like wearing the sweater of the person you love.  It was the next best thing to a mother’s warm embrace. It felt good to share my simple inheritance with my sisters. 

After Mass, hubby Claude followed his nose and we ended up in a congee food stall on the street, with folding tables and chairs under a makeshift tent. How he does it never fails to amaze me. An elderly Macanese couple with only two very big cauldrons runs it.  And it was a really great and very fine congee; I especially liked their salted pork and intestine congee. They had some limited dim sum, too. I highly recommend this place to those who do not mind getting up early.  Apparently, they operate only in the early hours before the shops open.

One dinner as always is reserved for Fernando’s.  Its baked bacalao (bathed in extra-virgin olive oil and garlic chips), shrimps in clam sauce, grilled sardines and, of course, cochinillo, best with chilled vino verde (a young Portuguese white wine), are always worth the long bus ride.  

Another Portuguese restaurant highly recommended within the city is Porto Exterior close to the Holiday Inn hotel.  It turned out to be a very good choice, as food was half the price of famous Fernando’s but just as good, especially their lamb dishes. 

Of course, one should never leave Macau without eating roast duck on rice and buying tins and tins of Portuguese sardines and chorizos for home. The best Macau chorizo brand is Nobre. We remove them from the cans, throw away the syrup and oil and bring them home in Ziplocs.  This way we only worry about the excess kilos in the body and don’t have to worry about excess kilos in the baggage.

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For comments or simply to say hi, email the author at mquioctayag@yahoo.com.

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