Whether it's egg tarts from a local bakery or fresh takes on seafood at a high-end restaurant, Macau's vibrant colonial past has provided the region with a cultural gourmet tasting tour

Fernando restaurant

Fernando restaurant

One of Asia's most extraordinary and unique destinations squeezes into barely 30 square kilometres of the Pearl River Delta in southern China. At every level, Macau is a beguiling and bewitching city of contrasts. The city's neon and bling casinos are an extraordinary success story, producing almost five times the gaming venue collected by The Strip in Sin City itself, Vegas. But on the other hand, its remarkable 17th-century churches, mansions and other architectural gems are reminders that Macau was part of Portugal until only 16 years ago. 

It's no surprise, then, that Portuguese culture – and cuisine – still looms large across the city, with countless restaurants serving up classic dishes and ingredients. Starting in the southern tip of Macau, around Coloane, you'll find Fernando, a humble beachside spot that has become one of the city's most loved Portuguese dining options – especially so for international visitors and expats from across the water in Hong Kong.

Egg tarts from Lord Stow's Bakery

Egg tarts from Lord Stow's Bakery

The secret to Fernando's success is pretty simple: warm homemade bread, tomato and onion salads, fabulous garlic prawns, crispy suckling pig and much more, all served on red and white checked tablecloths in a family-run setting. They don't take advance reservations, so put your name on the list and kick back in the garden with piquant chorizo, stuffed olives and cold Super Bock beers or sangria while you wait.

Although lunch there is satisfying, there's always room for dessert. So head down the road to one of the most famous homes of Portuguese egg tarts, Lord Stow's Bakery. And even if there are busloads of tourist nearby, the queues go down quickly and the flakiest butter pastry cups and just-set egg fillings are worth any wait. Strong Portuguese milky coffee helps avoid any post-lunch slump.

A dim sum starter at Vida Rica Restaurant

A dim sum starter at Vida Rica Restaurant

Among Macau's other standout Portuguese dining options are A Lorcha and the Riquexó café, along with Vida Rica Restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, Macau. Indisputably one of the city's finest establishments, Vida Rica is open all day and serves classic cuisine with clever twists. The Portuguese are rightly famous for their ways with seafood and the ‘Seafood Tower for two' at Vida Rica is a breathtaking sight (almost rivalling the views of the South China Sea seen from the floor-to-ceiling windows). It features Canadian lobster, spider crab, seared diver scallops, fried langoustine, octopus, white clams, deep-sea red prawns, razor clams, oysters, mackerel and salmon sashimi.

The chef's table at Vida Rica

The chef's table at Vida Rica

Arguably, Portugal's most famous seafood is bacalhau, or salted cod. Vida Rica presents a unique take on this dish by home curing it and serving it as a carpaccio with a vibrant sour beetroot compôte, lemon olive oil, baby onions and coriander. If stews are more your style, then the restaurant's traditional cataplana offers more maritime delights in this aromatic crustacean broth scented with Portuguese white wine.

With flawless service and some of the territory's finest Portuguese wines in elegant surroundings, there are few better places in which to ‘taste' the meeting of cultures and the city's rich history.

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Chris Dwyer

Chris Dwyer is a Hong Kong-based food and travel writer. He has written for CNN and publications across the world, and has a food review website at www.finefooddude.com

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