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macau: culture in transition
There have been rare moments in history where the collisions of cultures produced a prosperous, harmonious society. Macau was the first European settlement in Asia (older than Hong Kong by 300 years). The sea faring Portuguese protected Chinese goods from pirates and in exchange were allowed to settle in Macau and became the sole trading agents for China. The Portuguese alliance with the Chinese jumped started the global economy.
Macau was a Portuguese colony for 442 years. It was handed over in 1999 and became an “S.A.R.” – special administrative region of China. As an S.A.R., Macau has it’s own administrative and legislative powers, retains most of it’s Portuguese laws, and a high degree of autonomy.
Macau is located about 60 km from Hong Kong on the South China Sea and the Pearl River Delta. It consists of a peninsula and two islands – Coloane and Taipa, which, due to Macau’s building boom and land reclamation, are now connected.
Macau has it’s own currency – the pataca - and 2 official languages – Cantonese and Portuguese. Though the half million residence are primarily Chinese, respect for their Portuguese heritage is evident throughout Macau.
Macau is often compared to Las Vegas, but for me, San Francisco is a better reference point - Macau is surrounded by water, with a busy commercial district, skyscrapers, bridges, fisherman’s wharf, ferry terminal, relaxing outlying areas, and instead of Chinatown, well preserved Portuguese neighborhoods. Only when the sun goes down does the “Vegas of Asia” emerge.
In the 1500’s Macau was the “gateway to China” - linking East & West, and mingling cultures from almost every continent. It struck me that today’s Macau is much like the old days – people from all over the world are once again gathering here to trade and enjoy the food, architecture and entertainment of this exciting city.
Downtown Macau, is like any other city – busy sidewalks, traffic, lots of shopping, noise and general chaos. For a very different snapshot of daily life, take a stroll through a park.
For the visitor, the best place to get a taste of Macau’s fusion of cultures is, where else, but in a restaurant!
Macau gets over a million visitors per year, and those in-the-know come to eat. I'm not a big fan of casinos, but the word on the street is that the casino development has attracted some of the best chefs in Asia. (Some say the dim sum in Macau is now better than Hong Kong) Well, based on my experience, anyone that makes a "day trip" to Macau from Hong Kong - is doing things backwards! Just the interesting dining could keep me entertained in Macau for at least 3 or 4 days!
Macanese cuisine is a melting pot of flavors representing the heritage of Macau. Like the Portuguese sailors marrying the local Chinese girls, the flavors of their homelands were united to create the original “fusion cuisine”. Recipes and spices from the Portuguese colonies in South America, India, Africa and Malaysia joined the mix to make Macanese a truly exotic cuisine. Curried coconut crab, codfish cakes, African chicken, Brazilian stews, seafood rice casseroles, grilled sardines, chorizo, mango pudding ... is your mouth watering yet??
The "Red Market" is not really a tourist spot (beware of splashing fish, splattering blood, and crowded aisles), but if you have an interest in food and want to learn about the ingredients offered on the menus of Macau, you don't want to miss it.
The alleyways around the Red Market are overflowing with shops selling produce, tea and very funny t-shirts!
Hope you all make it to Macau someday soon!
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