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Macau, Part 2: Dim sum and custard tarts

Macau, Part 2: Dim sum and custard tarts
Foodtripper's journey through Macau continues with a Dim Sum feast and Lord Stow's legendary tarts.

When the Portugese seafarers first arrived in Macau in the 1550s they brought with them the palette and ingredients from their colonial adventures in South America, Africa, India and Malaya; wine from back home; and a big-hearted attitude to food as a communal event.
 
Not that their Chinese hosts were, or still are, inclined to eat alone. Take part in the Dim Sum feast in the kitsch surroudings of the old Grand Lisboa hotel – or for that matter any of the large and small restaurants around the Avenida da Praia Grande or the Red Market - and you will be joined by generations of families and friends as they tuck into platefuls of Chau min (fried noodles), Char Siu Pau (steamed buns stuffed with pork) and tiny Ngau luk (beef balls seasoned with ginger), and an endless supply of Heong pin chá (Jasmine tea).

Traditionally Dim Sum starts at dawn and finishes around midday, precisely the hour that the Portugese start their lengthy luncheons. They might now number a scant few thousand in Macau, but António Neves Coelho is one of their most lauded, and one of the most celebrated men in the SAR. From his cosy, rustic restaurant tucked down a village back street in Taipa (Rua dos Negociantes 3) the animated self-taught chef, with his wide Marty Feldman eyes and walls covered with glowing press clippings, presides over a kitchen as willing to serve up slithers of beautifully marbled Pata Negra with a bottle of Alentejo, as the man himself is happy to dispatch a champagne cork via a dramatic flourish of his terrifying warrior sword. He keeps bottles of Japanese whisky for special occassions - and is rumoured to reserve fish and chips for visiting Hong Kong expats. But you can side step this veiled insult dressed up as a quip by going straight for his
Macau, Part 2: Dim sum and custard tarts
deliciously sweet and savoury goat’s cheese gratin served on wedges of carob toast with a sticky, caramelised covering of honey to boot; or a plate of gambas ao alhinho (shrimp drenched by cooking it with a crushed head of garlic) and josh back that chips are for yesterday’s news.

Coelho ended up in Macau due to Portugese compulsory military service; Englishman Andrew Stow’s arrival was a little less forced. Sent out to work as an industrial pharmacist in the late 1970s he swiftly fell in love with the lush countryside of Coloane and set up his Tropical Health Foods business importing European baking products that allowed the locals to get their heads and hands around decent bread. Stow - the only Englishman in town - dubbed Lord Stow by the locals, set about recreating a perfect Portugese Egg Tart, but replaced the traditional filling with English-inspired fresh cream. It took him almost a half decade to perfect, but this sweet tasting precursor to fusion food went on to become a Macau legend and ‘Lord’ Stow was soon called upon to expand his business as far as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tokyo, Seoul and Manila.

Stow’s tarts may now be everywhere in South-East Asia, but the originals can only be found in Macau (at 1 Rua da Tassara, Coloane Town Square). And yet Macau is something of an original itself. It has had its down time (the development of Hong Kong dealt it some serious blows), but now it is on the rise again. The gambling and hedonism is ever present and the constant stream of high-rollers across the border has solidified its position as a Chinese compatriot to Las Vegas. Visitors who have been to the Nevada desert city might decide to describe it as a bit Less Vegas, but look to the construction sites of the casino hotels lining up to join in the fun and Macau’s future as a unique synthesis of Cantonese and Portugese cultures (with a little English cream thrown in) seems assured. Let’s just hope its cuisine can stay at the party.
 
More features about Macau:
Joel Robuchon in Macau on Foodtripper TV
 
Three nights in Macau with Virgin Holidays costs from £959 per person. Price includes scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow direct to Hong Kong, accommodation at the MGM Grande Macau on a room only basis, and return road and boat transfers.
Based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a standard room, price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges, which are subject to change.
Tel: 0844 557 3861 or visit www.virginholidays.co.uk.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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24 March 2010
By: Andrew Copestake
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