Macau (or Macao) has never been a destination on any of my past itineraries as a journalist, even though it was a convenient hop from Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen or even Taipei. Like many, I considered Macau as a gaming oasis for the privileged elites addicted to the excitement of high roller stakes. And besides, casinos were not my cup of tea.

But the penchant to meet my long lost cousin Bobby in Macau, whose daughter was Macau's former beauty queen, convinced me to accept an invitation to visit the territory and its resorts this summer, courtesy of Melco Crown Entertainment, developer, owner and operator of entertainment resort facilities in Asia. 

So visit I did and the trip totally transformed my opinion of Macau. As I have now learned first-hand, Macau is an emerging destination for nearly everything worth experiencing, and here's why.

 


Summer Getaway

The four-hour flight on Air Macau from Beijing to Macau was more than pleasant. The attractive Eurasian-looking stewardesses in stylish red uniforms were a sight for sore eyes. Luncheon came timely with my choice of chicken with rice, a meal once consumed that reminded me of the tasty Macanese chicken I had enjoyed at the Portuguese restaurant in the Beijing Hilton Wangfujing. Landing along the coast was scenic and smooth. On my way to the hotel, I lowered the limo window, allowing the refreshing sea breeze to engulf my senses, evoking the lure of tropical isles. In an instant, I felt rejuvenated, relaxed and completely devoid of stress from the daily grind back home. Suddenly the beach became irresistibly tempting, but I had to respect the elaborate program of my host.

 


Junction Between East & West, Past & Present

The first settlers in Macau were fishermen and farmers from Fujian and Guangdong Provinces, who referred to the peninsula as "A Ma Gao" in honor of "Ama" goddess of seafarers. Strategically located at the southern mouth of the Pearl River, Macau was part of the Silk Road connecting the trading routs between East and West, including India, Japan, and Southeast Asia.

Portuguese maritime explorers and merchants arrived from1550, christening the place "Macao", after its local Chinese name. In 1553 Portugal, flexing its naval supremacy, began dominating the territory by building Catholic churches, institutions, and academies as well as building naval artilleries and strategically located batteries. The buildup led to the segregation of Macao from the Middle Kingdom, and finally the colonization of the territory with the treaty of 1877, a period marked by the twilight of the Qing Dynasty.

Within the same period and prior to the Opium War, Hong Kong had fallen under British rule, a gem in its colonial quests. This event led to a pivotal shift in commerce and trade from the Portuguese to the British colony, thereby condemning Macao to become a quiet, backwater community. The event led Macao to engage in manufacturing and tourism, and of course, gambling. 

Fast forward to the turn of the twentieth century, the return of Macao to the sovereignty of the People's Republic of China saw the territory regaining its grandeur, but this time as a bustling free port and pulsating metropolis. With its cultural heritage, historical architecture, and well-preserved, local traditions, Macau is enjoying a renaissance, being an international landmark, where the past and present, east and west seamlessly and harmoniously become One, yet celebrating its diversity.

 

 


Placid yet Dazzling

Macau, a Special Administrative Territory (SAR) of the PRC, is made up of two land masses: The peninsula and the Cotai Strip on the island of Taipa (completely and amazingly built on reclaimed land). The four zones of the territory: Coloane, Taipa, Cotai, and Macau city add up to 29.5 sq. km, altogether connected by beautiful bridges and linked to the mainland by tunnels.

From one SAR to the other, Macau and Hong Kong are but an hour ride on turbojet ferry across the harbor or a few minutes by helicopter.

While nestling in the surrounds of international financial, convention, trading and commercial hubs such as Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Zhuhai, Macau glistens with its own unique charm as a placid sanctuary. At the same time, it dazzles with magnificent world-class resorts fashioned after a well-thought urban plan that focuses on the preservation of Macau's precious cultural heritage and natural landscape hand in hand with the development of the territory into an ultra-progressive world destination. 

Among the mushrooming numbers of self-contained mega resorts, City of Dreams and Studio City shine with significant points for differentiation.

Opened in 2009, City of Dreams is located along the Cotai Strip in the Cotai reclamation area. The stunning dream city is an integrated resort featuring The Shops at The Boulevard, the purpose-built Dancing Water Theater housing the world's largest water extravaganza – The House of Dancing Water, over 30 creatively themed and award winning restaurants, bars and lounges; and three world-class hotels: Crown Towers, Hard Rock Hotel and Grand Hyatt Macau, in addition to the fifth hotel tower, which is under construction and is designed by the award-winning, internationally-renowned architect and "Queen of the Curve", the late Dame Zaha Hadid. 

A stone's throw from here is the US$3.2 billion Hollywood-inspired, cinematically-themed Studio City, Asia's Entertainment Capital to strike a blasting synergy between creative cinema production and the business of innovative hospitality, entertainment, and gastronomy.

Studio City prides itself with many unique features such as: The Golden Reel (world's tallest figure-8 Ferris wheel); Batman Dark Flight (world's first 4D simulation ride based on the 'Batman' intellectual property franchise); Warner Bros. Fun Zone (4,000 sq. meters indoor interactive play center); The House of Magic (multi-theater attraction housing magic acts performed by leading magicians from around the world); Studio City Event Center (well-appointed 5,000-seat multi-purpose center perfect for live concerts, theatrical productions, and sporting and MICE events); Studio 8 (fully operational TV production facility); Pacha Macau (among the world's biggest names in night clubs bringing the Ibiza-style nightlife to Greater China); and the Studio City Hotel (1,600 rooms imposing two distinct towers – the all-suite Star Tower and the Celebrity Tower).

As for gourmet diners and food adventurers, the resorts in Macau open to a sumptuous world of local and international cuisines and wines, not short at all of the highest distinctions such as the Michelin stars, Forbes Travel Guide's Five-Star Award, and SCMP 100 Top Tables Award, and a collection of best restaurant reviews.  .   

 

 

 


Culinary Diversity

Macau takes pride in its Macanese cuisine with its multiplicity of flavors and cooking styles crisscrossing the diverse culinary traditions from Southern Chinese (Cantonese and Fujianese) to Indian, Portuguese, Malay, Lusophone African (Africans linked to Portuguese culture and language) as well as European and Latin American.

And consider the profusion of ingredients that constitute Macanese cuisine, such as turmeric, cinnamon, star anise, saffron, curry, lime, coconut milk, soy sauce, olive, cheese, chili, pepper, plus the many cultural influences involved in food preparation, vividly illustrate the complexity of this rich cuisine, one that has evolved over a storied past. Some illustrative dishes include: GalinhaàPortuguesa (Portuguese chicken); GalinhaàAfricana (African chicken); Bacalhau Assado (traditional Portuguese grilled salted cod); Pato de cabidela (famous Macanese duck with the sauce being made from blood and vinegar); tapas; Macanese chili shrimps; Minchi; stir-fried curry crab; Ta Pin Nuo (Chinese hotpot); jagra de ovos (sweet egg tarts); roast pork buns; roast goose; Beggar's Chicken; spring rolls; meat dumplings; fried noodles; and ginger milk to name but a few. 

In a nutshell, the most appropriate counterpart to Macanese Cuisine is the Levantine Cuisine of the Middle East.

 

The Emerging Food Mecca 

Nowhere has a destination as small as Macau been as blessed with so many Michelin star restaurants; and no less, in Greater China. Among the "must experience" restaurants I visited that are housed in the spanning resort complexes and their state-of-the-art architectural edifices include:

 


Jade Dragon Restaurant  unmistakably Chinese, shines among the culinary flagships of City of Dreams with a blazing trail of awards: 2 Michelin stars (2016), 1 Michelinstar (2014-2015), consecutive Forbes Travel Guide 5-star Award (2014-2016), consecutive Top 20 Restaurants recognition by Hong Kong Tatler Best Restaurant Guide (2014-2016), SCMP 100 Top Tables (2014-2016), and many more.

The restaurant is located on level 2 of Crown Towers. At the helm of the kitchen is celebrity Chef Tam Kwok Fung, whose culinary artistry and ingenuity are well rooted in traditional Chinese medicine. The TCM initiative is an exclusive collaboration between the kitchen and the Macau University of Science and Technology. Chef Tam's meticulous attention to the integrity of ingredients resides at the core of his culinary approach, which includes seasonality of food, authenticity of cooking methods and utensils, and the design and choice of plating materials and vessels.

The interior design incorporated the elements of Chinese food philosophy, aesthetics, and the principles of Zen, altogether translated into the sense of place, embodying the charm of jade and auspiciousness of the dragon.  

 

 

The Tasting Room  thematically French, is another pride of City of Dreams, glittering with 2 Michelin stars awarded in 2016, after having enjoying 1 Michelin star for three consecutive years.

At the helm of the kitchen is Executive Chef Guillaume Galliot, who brought with him a wealth of culinary experience and recognition from not only across France, but as well Beijing and Singapore. With his exceptional culinary creativity and innovation, Chef Guillaume continually takes classic French cuisine to new levels of artistry and refinement. Tasting his seasonal menu is a gastronomic journey into the future, all the while unmistakably French.

The clean and simple lines of the interior give the restaurant its quiet elegance. The uncluttered space allows food and wine to unfold to their fullest expressions without distractions.

 


Shinji by Kanesaka   garnering 1 Michelin star after only nine months of operation is inconspicuously located off the lobby of Crown Towers, City of Dreams. Helmed by Chef de Cuisine Toru Osumi, the restaurant is the first outlet in Greater China by sushi maestro Shinji Kanesaka, one of the youngest and most celebrated sushi chefs in Japan. At 28 years of age, he opened his first Sushi Kanesaka restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo which has been a Michelin star destination since 2008. 

Fish and seafood supplies, hand-selected by Chef Kanesaka at the world renowned Tsukiji Market in Tokyo are delivered daily to his restaurant in the Crown Towers.  

Shinji by Kanesaka is the ultimate expression of minimalism, providing sushi chefs an immaculate surrounding for staging their cutting-edge sushi craft and culinary artistry. Organic materials like wood, paper, and prints were flown in from Japan for fabricating the furnishings, decors, and the sushi bar (made from Japanese cypress). Dining at Shinji by Kanesaka is a transcendental experience that connects with the mind and spirit.

 


Shanghai Magic   is Macau's first and only restaurant with a magical theme. Located at Studio City, the restaurant sits next to The House of Magic with a softly lit interior that exudes a mystic ambiance, evoking a nostalgic feel of old Shanghai in the roaring 1920's.

Here at the kitchen helm is young Chef de Cuisine Wilson Fam who dishes up a truly sumptuous menu of modern Shanghainese cuisine. Chef Wilson takes Shanghainese food to another level of sophistication and refinement.

Next door to the restaurant is "The House of Magic", a creation of world-framed magician Franz Harary who regularly hops over to dazzle and bemuse diners with his mesmerizing stints. Cuisine and magic come together in creating a dining experience that is truly unforgettable.   

 


Aurora  is located on level 10 of the Altira Macau hotel. The Italian restaurant opens to a terrace overlooking the breathtaking panorama of the sea accentuated by the Macau Tower and spanning bridges connecting Taipa island and the peninsula. "Dining with a view" best describes this place. 

Aurora Macau's 38 Lounge prides itself on having one of Macau's most extensive wine lists, covering every Italian region as well as some of the top terroirs of France, Portugal and beyond. 
At the kitchen helm is Executive Chef Jochen Beranek. Although born and raised in Salzburg, Austria, Chef Jochen is every bit an Italian by heart, temperament, passion, and training. He is best described as a well-rounded culinarian with a world of culinary wisdom gathered across-cultures from Italy, America and Australia to China, Japan and India over a span of twenty years.

Chef Jochen's culinary creations exude all the freshness of nature with a symphony of flavors that celebrates the Italian lifestyle; and above all, exemplifies his "farm to table" culinary mantra.  


Beyond Entertainment

Historically during the Portuguese rule, Macau had been a pirates' den of gambling and excess. In fact, gambling was commonly tolerated from the 1800's. Prior to the introduction of western casinos in the twentieth century, the popular game played by the locals was "fan-tan".

A year after the return of Macau to China's sovereignty in 1999 also marked the end of the four-decade gaming monopoly of SJM, which license expired in year 2000, thus prompted Macau to open its arena to established foreign developers and operators of hotels and entertainment resorts.  

The new competition drove Stanley Ho and his SJM Holdings to realize even bigger dreams. In no time, his mega resorts unraveled with over 2,000 luxury hotel rooms to welcome and accomodate a regular host of international travelers, food and wine lovers, shoppers, celebrities, and who's who luminaries. 

Beyond gaming and entertainment, more spectacular developments are quietly unfolding, driven by the innovative, creative, and visionary spirit behind an emerging Mecca that is almost everything worth discovering. 

 
 
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