Sunday, December 4, 2011

Friday Foodday - Macau Travelogue

OK, I know it's actually Sunday here and Saturday at home, but I didn't have anything good to say about food on Friday, as I've been in China (a.k.a. the land of noodles and gristle) all week.  So today, I'm pleased to offer up a report on a day trip that I took today to Macau, complete with a wonderful meal that I'm going to try to recreate at home.  First, a little travelogue.

I barely knew anything about Macau before today, other than it used to be Portuguese, it had something to do with shipping and its an island.  These things are all still true, but now I have a much better feel for the place.  If I had to describe Macau, I'd say take Puerto Rico, and Vegas, and China, shake them all together and yell "Yahtzee!"  It's a strange and wonderful place. 
First picture, welcome to the Macau ferry terminal.  Is that a real Chinese fort behind me, or is it a repro done as a casino?  I still don't know!  (That rock behind it might not be real either, now that I think about it...)

My favorite part was definitely the architecture.  Not sure what you would call this style (baroque? classical?) but I call it "wedding cake".  It's my favorite style, lots of pastels and ornate white trim and details.  With a little bit of China thrown on top.  This was the first thing I saw at the main square, Leal de Sentado.
Pastel green building, melon-colored building, lemon-colored building?  Love it!  Little bit of Chinese holiday flair on the left.  (I believe that is a Chinese lantern dressed up like a snowman.)  But back to the architecture...
Love it!  I did a little walking tour, starting with the Church of St. Dominic, which has to be one of the most lovely churches I've ever seen.
Oh my god.  Lovvvvvvvve it.  The green shutters are traditional for Macau architecture.  The frilly white bits look like traditional Venice to me.  I love everything about this church, I want to put it in my pocket and carry it around. 

Things only got better inside.  The interior is amazing.  Tall, white and airy.  Wooden details as you might imagine a tropical church to have.  Gorgeous altarpiece of Mary.  Even more amazing:
As I stepped in, a tiny youth orchestra struck up "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" by Bach.  I have no idea what they were doing there.  No one but me seemed to be listening.  That music was made for that space.  It was transcendent, as if you were standing next to Bach and he was nodding at a job well done.  Amazing.

When the orchestra wound down (I think they did Handel next, I couldn't name it), I looked around the church a little more.  My photos don't do the charming wooden details justice.  The ceiling is pierced wood, the balcony is made of little wooden panels, the shutters are wide open to admit light and antique crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling.  Of course, more white scallopy trim and corbels.
So beautiful.  Soooo beautiful.  I hated to leave.  I wonder if I can put wedding-cakesque trim in our house?

The only way to follow that up was with an amazing lunch.  I went to a restaurant called Platano and sat outside in their lovely courtyard.  Such a luxury on the 4th of December.  First item of lunch was an amazing homemade orangeade:
I believe the recipe for this is something like squeeze a couple of oranges, add some soda water and some simple syrup.  It was completely ridiculously delicious and with citrus season just coming up in the US, I'm looking forward to recreating it at home.
For lunch, I ordered something translated as "cakes made of crab meat".  Hoping that this wouldn't turn out to be actual cake, I wasn't disappointed:
Awesome.  This was very different from an American crab cake.  I don't think a bread crumb got anywhere near this little bit of heaven.  It tastes more like a souffle, mostly eggs and giant hunks of crab meat with some tiny diced savory things.  I think maybe gherkins or pickles, red onions and celery, minced incredibly fine, so they barely even crunch but add lots of flavor?  I might have to experiment with this one, but I think it will be worth the effort.  Hands down the best thing I've eaten in days, although it's pretty hard to go wrong with succulent fresh seafood, right?

After being thus fortified, I continued on the walking tour, up to the Monte Fort. 
This photo might be the most evocative of the feel of Macau.  500 year old banyan tree in the foreground, crenellations of a colonial fort behind that, and behind that, giant skyscraper casino shaped like a spray of water.  (That casino has neon all the way up so at night it becomes a pink fountain that fades into a blue fountain that fades into a yellow get the idea.)  I stayed clear of all the casinos and went for vintage Macau, but there is a lot of Vegas there if you want it.
Monte Fort also features the Macau Museum which is actually a really great and interactive museum with cool exhibits about daily life in Macau through the ages.  I loved the 1/2 scale streetscene and the traditional Macau living room and the old "shops" set up to educate you about the traditions of pastry-making, firecracker creation and gambling dens.  Moving on...

The biggest landmark of Macau is actually the Ruins of St. Paul.  It's the front of a church that was built in the early 1600's and destroyed by a fire in 1835.  The facade is all that's left but it's pretty cool:
It was intended to educate the illiterate about Christianity so it's decorated with scenes from the bible as well as fantastical devils intended to warn against sin.  
On a gorgeous sunny day like today, it's hard to feel anything but happy.
Pretty cool.  I kinda love the open air aspect, it lets the sky play a starring role too.

I finished the walking tour up with a little more wedding-cake-itude.
Gah!  Mint green with a wrought-iron balcony?  Someone hold me back.
Salmon-pink?  Yes please!
Peach?  With laurel wreaths and swags?  Yesssss.

Finally, I couldn't abandon this post without reporting that Macau also gets into the Christmas spirit, but it looks even more odd than Hong Kong.  In the main square, Leal de Senado:
That is a giant green-and-white tree made of Astroturf, people.
Do the shades hide my bemusement at this freaky reindeer with no hands?  Or my skepticism at celebrating Christmas when its 75 degrees and sunny out?  Hmmm.

So that's Macau!  It wasn't all sunshine and roses (there were some completely mind-numbing customs lines involved), but for a day trip, it was pretty cool.  How often do you get to drink fresh orangeade and appreciate your favorite style of architecture, in the sunshine, on Dec. 4?  Not very often, my friends.  Thanks Macau! 

Next up, #6-10 of great things about Hong Kong.  Stay tuned for more Asian adventures!

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