Macau As It Was
Macau has become a maelstrom of newness—More Giant casinos! More Hookers! A Sky Needle!—and at the ferry terminal, you’ll fight to get through the scrums of punters headed for the gambling palaces sprouting from the mud.
But if your ambition is lunch and some serenity, as it was before the Steve Wynns of this world met fast Chinese money and descended onto one of Asia’s most salubrious colonies, forget the buffet at the gambling palaces. Go to Taipa Island, to a fading Portuguese-Macanese enclave hidden away in a time warp near the Macau Racetrack, where you find restaurants named—no joke—Dumbo and Pinocchio.
The best of them is Galo, the Portuguese word for Rooster. This is where the remnants of Macau’s Portuguese families still congregate. Don’t stop downstairs, although downstairs is a nice place to listen to some Portuguese and enjoy great food. But it’s better upstairs, where serenity reigns and you’re often the only diners in the place. Weekdays are even better for lunch because there are no intrusive Hong Kong tourists. Go up the steep, rickety staircase to where a couple of waitresses, sleepy and sleek as kittens, watch TV while waiting for customers. Order a bottle of Avelida or Presidente. (You’ll require a bottle per customer because the alcohol content of vinho verde is less than 10 percent.)
First comes some of the best bread in Macau, cricket ball-sized fistfuls that steam in your hand. From the huge menu book (with photos of everything) try the baby squid sautéed in olive oil with black olives. Sit back and wait for the ancient dumbwaiter to grind up from the downstairs kitchen. Drink Avelida. Leave at least two hours for lunch and let the vinho melt into the Portuguese rhythms.
The clams in black bean sauce with garlic and Portugal’s incomparable olive oil are more Cantonese than Portuguese, but they’re necessary for the pao, or bread, to soak up the juices. Grilled baby chicken bits are tender and well-grilled. There is a visually spectacular beef kebab that arrives on a wrought iron spit, a split orange at the top, that your sleepy waitress will squeeze to let the orange juice drizzle over the grilled beef onto pommes frites. Order an espresso, and if the waitresses like you, they will bring you an extra chocolate square to dissolve in it. Open the blue shutters next to you and listen to the bicycle bells tinkling away on the pedestrians-only street downstairs. It’s the only place in Macau now where you’re likely to hear them.