I visited Macao, or Macau – as most of you call it, with my travel buddy to discover how this former Portuguese territory has become one of the region’s liveliest destinations for entertainment, food, and, adventure.
Macao was once a Portuguese territory but reverted to a Special Administrative Region of China in 1999. The once-robust trading port holds a rich history with elements of Portuguese culture, not to mention the world-class entertainment, accommodation and dining options.
To say that Macau food is awesome is an understatement — I love their food! Macau has both Chinese and Portuguese cuisines as well as a fusion of both called Macanese. From Michelin-star restaurants to old-school street snacks, the food landscape in Macau is overflowing with goodness. I shall stop talking about food for now and delve into the top attractions instead.
Things to Do in Macau
Although it is small, Macau is packed with plenty of attractions. Its historic downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so that was enough to arouse our curiosity.
We started in Senado Square lined with stately buildings — the European architecture made us feel like we were outside Macau for sure. Leal Senado (Loyal Senate) was built in 1784 as the first administrative chamber where governors decided on the matters of state.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
From here, the street winds along to Macao’s most popular heritage site, the 17th-century ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Originally built by Jesuit monks between 1602 and 1640, we also learned that it’s the Far East’s first Western-styled university. A stone façade is all that remains after the fire burnt the building down in 1835.
Feeling adventurous, we headed down to Macau Tower to take the skywalk adventure. At 233m, the tower offers possibly the best view of Macao, and being able to walk on the edge of the tower brings the panorama to another level. We were strapped to the railing, and although it might not look dangerous, the operator, AJ Hackett, is reputable in the industry. He’s the crazy Kiwi who invented bungy jumping! My friend and I goofed off for the cameras and had heaps of fun trying to see as far as we could.
Macau’s outer islands
Macao once comprised of one mainland and two offshore islands, but reclamation has joined Taipa and Coloane Islands. The reclaimed section is now called Cotai Central, the home to large resorts.
Here, Parisian Macao has a half-size replica of the Eiffel Tower, probably drawing as many tourists as the Eiffel Tower itself. We took the elevator up to the open-air walkway with an unobstructed view of Cotai Central. It was pure bliss, soaking in the fantastic view while enjoying the cooling breeze.
Exploring nearby Taipa Village on foot is another essential tourist activity. We roamed around to discover the different historical sites and narrow streets lined with cafés, bars, and restaurants. Dropping by Taipa Houses Museum along a promenade was a pleasant change from the touristy attractions. The same boardwalk was once beachfront. After learning more of the island’s history, we walked into Taipa, along Rua Direita Carlos Eugenia.
This is where we really got interested in Macao’s food.
Macau Food for (tummy and) Thought
Macao offers a global selection of food in addition to Chinese, Portuguese, and Macanese.
The Michelin-star entered Macao a few years back, and ever since then, new hotels pop up, trying to outdo the others to earn the coveted stars.
Michelin-Star Restaurants in Macau
Being true foodies, we chose to stay at MGM Cotai, simply because we wanted to hop from one restaurant to another within the hotel compound. Here, Chef Graham Elliot (MasterChef USA) operates Coast, Chef Mitsuharu (Micha) Tsumura has Aji (his Maido in Lima is rated the world’s seventh best restaurant), and Chef Mauro Colagreco establishes Grill 58 (his Mirazur in Menton, France is the world’s third best restaurant).
Fresh and tasty creations by Chef Mitsuharu at the Wynn Macau / Credit: MGM Cotai
With such a star-studded cast, we simply had to eat in all taking our breakfast in Coast each day. Peruvian food has taken the world by storm, and Aji was as good as its reviews. Chef Micha’s food is a visual feast and a gastronomic delight especially the melt-in-the-mouth wagyu and fresh salmon sushi served on Himalayan rock salt. Some dishes are prepared before my eyes. The black cod with Amazonic nut and purple potato cream was so exciting to look at that I hesitated to eat it.
Credit: MGM Cotai
Close by, Grill 58 is as impressive but keeps things traditional with premium steaks and seafood cooked to perfection. Grill 58 serves classic dishes with the all-too-perfect langoustine starter and the tender Black Angus Wagyu striploin with Béarnaise sauce and creamy truffled potato, — simply sublime.
Street Food and Snacks in Macau
While these were special treats, not all good meals in Macao need to be Michelin-rated. In Taipa, you can get as many traditional street food as you want. Head to Rua do Cunha to get your hands on local biscuits, ice cream (durian is yums!), and egg tarts (locally known as pasties de nata).
Portuguese egg tarts are similar to Chinese egg tarts but with a caramelised layer on top. The family-run Lord Stow‘s is the most famous egg tart outlet in Macau; it has been around for decades. If you are looking to bring some biscuits home, stop by Koi Kei Bakery to get them.
Taipa Market (Mercado) may be small but is worth exploring for some fresh fruits.
We had lunch in Tapas de Portugal in Taipa, a restaurant specialising in small dishes (don’t miss the seafood rice, sautéed garlic prawns and grilled chorizo) and Portuguese wine. We stuffed ourselves silly with lots of Portuguese food!
We also discovered Goa Nights, a vibrant cocktail lounge cum an intimate Indian restaurant. Our Cape Verde cocktail of gin and pineapple warranted us another visit the next day!
Macanese cuisine is a marriage of southern Chinese dishes and Portuguese ingredients, spices, and cooking styles. Thanks to the Portuguese sailors who brought back herbs, spices, fruits, and other foods from their expeditions. Famous Macanese dishes include African chicken, baked crab, grilled sardines, chilli shrimp, and bacalhau (salted cod).
Where to stay in Macau
MGM Cotai was an excellent choice. The luxurious 1,390-room property has a striking metallic exterior that is beautifully illuminated at night. Our room is lavishly furnished with wooden floors while the bathroom is coated in marble. I especially liked the complimentary mini bar and the plush Bar Pataú that serves classic martinis.
Alternatively, only a stone’s throw away is St. Regis Macao with 400 elegant rooms and suites (this is small by a Macao standard because the adjoining Sheraton Grand has 4,001 rooms!). The must-try beverage in the St. Regis Bar is the Maria do Leste Bloody Mary with peri-peri spices.