The Future

In Macao,
you can’t judge a meal by the menu

Will the work behind every great dish ultimately deliver this Special Administrative Region into a sustainable future?

Each morning in a densely populated neighborhood of Macao, stallholders in the Red Market prepare for an inevitable rush of shoppers.

It’s here in this iconic wet market that chefs rub shoulders with locals buying fresh produce for the kitchens.

Their eagerness to find the perfect buy leads them through three stories in the historic red-bricked complex, from the colorful display of flowers, Chinese and European vegetables, and fruit on the ground floor to the live, regularly replenished seafood on the first floor. Take the stairs to the top floor and a huge range of meats are also there to be bought for the tables of Macao.

“My business is spread across a number of the stalls, so I’m not seen to be favoring anyone,” says chef Antonio Coelho, whose multi-award-winning Portuguese restaurant, Antonio’s, is a drawcard in Taipa Village. “They all sell good produce, so I’m loyal to everyone with freshness in mind. Freshness in Macao is as important as quality; very important.”

Since it opened in 1936, the marketplace has been an institution on the Macao peninsula, the ingredients making for some tantalizing Macanese dishes such as African chicken and Minchi, to mention just two.

There is a sense within the community that if Macao is to move forward on the Great Green Food Journey, then the 80-plus-year-old Red Market should remain a feature.

Fine cuisine begins at the source, and the approach to shopping taken by people like Coelho is what makes Macao special. Pride and passion are key to creating Macao’s unique fare, and so it’s little wonder the Portuguese-born-and-bred Antonio decided to make the former Portuguese territory his home.

Macao’s fascinating mix of Chinese and European cuisine spans across five centuries, long before the Red Market was built. Those traditions are noticeable wherever you explore. And there’s a desire to keep these traditions going in the future.

From local stalls to the super casinos on the strip, many of Macao’s dining outlets are eager to address food waste and move towards sustainability.

From the tiny eateries sharing the same neighborhoods as the temples and churches, to the restaurants serving Chinese food in polished European-style venues, there’s no doubting Macao’s uniqueness in this corner of China.

The fact that it continues to create and dish out one of the world’s earliest forms of fusion cuisine places it in a special spot in Asia. And it’s a combination that ultimately led to Macao’s inclusion on the elite list of UNESCO’s Creative Cities of Gastronomy.

Such is the importance of food to Macao’s future tourism, it has become a prime feature at annual events including the spectacular Light Festival and International Film Festival and Awards.

In Macao’s quaint Taipa Village, work is also well underway to transform what were abandoned derelict buildings into lovingly converted art galleries, trendy cafes and casual restaurants.

The same gentrification is taking place on the peninsula where a timeworn building has been converted into the Old House Bakery.

It is here that the owner makes an artisanal bread which rekindles her youth in Macao.

She, like others in the neighborhood, has set her sights on past pleasures and successes to create her future.

To retain Macao’s position on the prized UNESCO Creative City listing, and to further strengthen its stance on sustainability for future generations, Macao is looking at all kinds of remedies for solving what is a worldwide problem - food waste.

With humans having stepped onto the Macau Peninsula almost 6000 years ago, community and tradition now keep Macao’s culture alive.

Dr Cheng Wai Tong, deputy director of the Macao Government Tourism Office, says as a starting point to sustainability, the city aims to learn more about the waste created in the transport, production, and consumption of its food.

His position supervising the city’s destination marketing as well as the training and quality management departments place him in a good position to monitor waste levels and act on calls to avoid unnecessary waste.

It’s estimated that 1.3 billion tons of food produced for human consumption every year are wasted. But the chefs, kitchen hands, and the growing number of hotel and resort managers in Macao are doing their best to end the flow of waste.

Sands China is looking to kick a few goals in the war against plastic by banning single-use plastics in its array of restaurants throughout such resorts as The Venetian and The Parisian. Management has brought an end to the use of plastic straws, which was estimated at 2.2 million a year in its properties alone.

“Placed end-to-end on the newly opened Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, that’s enough to stretch from Macao to Hong Kong 10 times,” says Mark McWhinnie, senior vice-president of resort operations for Sands China.

It’s a sizeable task that Macao has taken on with all the enthusiasm of a center eager to continue the Great Green Food Journey.

To succeed in meeting the challenge, Macao will need to bring about local awareness and support the development of the local catering industries. In other words – education.

As for the survival of historic Macanese cuisine, local chef Palmira Pena (whose family owns two restaurants in Taipa Village – Ó Manel and Lobster King), wants to see more recipes passed on from one generation to another and to spread the news of these fabulous dishes far beyond Macao.

And she says that should begin in Macao, perhaps when the chefs and locals converge on the Red Market for their next fresh purchase.