Macanese Cuisine

Blending together the flavours of the Portuguese Empire, Macanese cuisine was one of the earliest types of fusion cuisine in the world. During the 16th century, Portugal paid tribute to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and, in exchange, they were allowed to establish a permanent settlement in Macau, which they used as a central trading hub. This allowed them to transport spices from across their vast empire, from colonies in South America and Africa right through to India and Southeast Asia. These foreign settlers brought with them wives and servants from far-flung regions, whose responsibility it was to try and re-create traditional Portuguese dishes for the household.

Unfortunately, while the Portuguese Empire continued to advance, the world had yet to experience the joy of modern-day refrigeration technology! Therefore the only ingredients available to these colonists were non-perishables, such as spices, preserved meats, chillies, oils, and wine. Coconut milk from Malaysia, turmeric from India, piri piri chilli peppers from Mozambique, bacalhau (salted cod) from Portugal, soy sauce from China, and numerous other exotic ingredients became staples of Macanese cuisine. This dizzying combination of flavours has made this style both mouth-wateringly delicious and difficult to define.

Complementing this diversity of ingredients, traditional Chinese cooking techniques such as wok-frying and steaming were used in tandem with European methods like baking and roasting. These multifarious influences combined over a period of 450 years to eventually form the signature dishes we find in Macau today. Much like the city’s architecture, its cuisine seamlessly blends elements from the East and the West, gradually evolving into a style that is celebrated by gourmands the world over.  

Galinha à Africana (非洲鸡)

Galinha à Africana, which literally translates to mean “African-style chicken”, is one of the most emblematic dishes when it comes to the cultural diversity of Macanese cuisine. The dish consists of chicken that has been marinated in devilishly spicy piri piri sauce and is either barbecued or roasted until blackened. It is also popular throughout Portugal and other former colonies, such as Brazil and Mozambique, although the recipe differs from place to place. The dish is believed to have been created by a chef named Americo Angelo, who developed the recipe while working at a small hotel known as Pousada de Macau. 

Like many intrepid explorers, Angelo was inspired to create the dish after a trip to one of the Portuguese colonies in Africa. The chicken is served on a large plate, slathered in thick, red piri piri sauce, with a garnish of black olives and pickled cucumbers. A heaping helping of thinly sliced fried potatoes form the perfect accompaniment to the tangy chicken. The inclusion of paprika, turmeric, chillies, coconut milk, and red bell peppers all add to the cosmopolitan nature of this unusual dish, forming a symphony of flavours that will simultaneously remind you of countless cuisines without strictly belonging to a single one.  

Galinha à Portuguesa (葡国鸡)

Much like Galinha à Africana, Galinha à Portuguesa or “Portuguese-style chicken” did not originate from Portugal, but is in fact a fusion dish that was developed in Macau. The dish was invented sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries and is thought to have originated either from Malaysia, Japan, or India. When local Chinese people first made contact with the Portuguese settlers, they came across the dish and believed it came from Portugal, hence the name. 

Juicy pieces of chicken, thick cubes of potato, and boiled rice are all blanketed in a mild, coconut-based curry sauce before being baked until golden brown. While the staple ingredients are predominantly of Asian origin, it still retains features of traditional European cuisine, such as olives, tomatoes, and saffron. By comparison to Galinha à Africana, which is a mainstay of Macanese restaurants, Galinha à Portuguesa is more of a home cooked dish, with each family having their own unique recipe and method for making the distinctive curry sauce. After all, there’s no place like home, even if that home might be made up of people and customs from across the globe! 

Macanese Bacalhau (澳门鳕鱼)

When it comes to traditional Portuguese cuisine, the most iconic ingredient is undoubtedly bacalhau or dried and salted cod. It’s so integral to many of the local dishes that it has replaced the Portuguese word for “cod”, with “fresh cod” being referred to as “bacalhau fresco” or “fresh salted cod”! Bacalhau dishes abound throughout Portugal and its former colonies, from Cape Verde right through to Goa and Brazil. In fact, there are rumoured to be over 1,000 bacalhau recipes in Portugal alone! 

Over 500 years ago, bacalhau evolved out of a need to preserve supplies of cod for long journeys. By drying and salting the cod, its essential nutrients were retained, and it became an invaluable and cheap source of protein for travellers and colonists alike. Macanese Bacalhau involves soaking and then flaking the salted codfish before preparing an aromatic sauce made from coconut milk, saffron, olive oil, chopped shallots, and garlic. The codfish is then added to the fragrant mixture, seasoned with salt and pepper, and gently stir-fried with chilli oil. Once the fish is thoroughly cooked and a little dry, it is served either with mouth-watering buttery rice or a light salad.

Minchee (澳門式免治)

Also known as minchi, this emblematic dish is a comfort food favourite in most Macanese households and supposedly earned its unusual name from the English word “to mince”, as the dish is primarily made of minced or ground meat. Beef mince, pork mince, or both are used, with the beef mince typically being accompanied by Chinese lap cheong sausage to retain that delicious porky flavour. Chopped onions, mashed garlic, and a bay leaf are first stewed in olive oil until the onions start to turn a rich golden brown. 

The minced meat is then added, along with a pinch of salt, a sprinkling of pepper, a drop of soy sauce, and a dollop of molasses. Once the meat is seasoned and the pan is covered, it’s left to stew until it is thoroughly cooked and the sauce has thickened. It’s then served with crispy deep-fried potato cubes, steamed rice, and a fried egg on top. In many local kitchens, minchee is made simply with leftover meats, much like British bubble and squeak or American meatloaf. It’s a hearty dish with a salty tang, designed to tickle the taste-buds, fill the stomach, and warm the heart.  



Like nearby Hong Kong, Macau is classified as a Special Administrative Region in China because it was once a foreign colony. The first Portuguese ship anchored there in 1513 and historians believe that it landed somewhere near the A-ma Temple, which is dedicated to Mazu, the goddess of seafarers and fishermen. When the Portuguese sailors asked the name of the place, the locals replied with the Chinese name of the temple, which was “Māgé Miào”. It is believed that this is where the name “Macau” came from. Talk about getting lost in translation!

By 1557, Portugal began paying tribute to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) for the right to settle the area. It was swiftly developed into a major international trading port, but remained largely under Chinese control until 1887, when a mutual agreement between the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and Portugal granted Portuguese sovereignty. Although it was swiftly overtaken in trade by Hong Kong, it would soon come to serve a far more important purpose.

macau-eveningThroughout the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and the Second World War (1939-1945), Macau was declared a neutral territory, unlike Hong Kong. Chinese and Europeans flocked to the region, and it soon grew to become one of the most densely populated areas on earth. In 1987, by using the Hong Kong Joint Declaration as a model, Portugal and China finally reached an agreement to return Macau to Chinese control in 1999. In exchange, Macau must remain autonomous for at least 50 years after the takeover. As outlined by the policy of “one country, two systems”, Macau’s citizens have the right to elect local leaders, travel freely, and maintain their way of life, although matters of foreign policy and defence are handled by China.

Yet it seems that what happens in Macau, really does stay in Macau! Heralded as the “Vegas of China”, gambling has been legal in the region since the 1850s and is the only place in China where gambling is legalised. It is home to a horse-racing track, the Macau Jockey Club, the dog-racing Canidrome, and 33 casinos, the largest of which is the Venetian Macao. A reclaimed patch of land, known as Cotai, is now the site of numerous megacasinos and is said to resemble the Las Vegas Strip.

Alongside Cotai, Macau is made up of three other areas: the Macau Peninsula, and the islands of Taipa and Coloane. The region itself has a subtropical climate, with hot, rainy summers and mild, dry winters. Temperatures regularly reach heights of 29 °C (84 °F) in summer, but fall to a comfortable 15 °C (59 °F) in winter. The Macau Peninsula houses the old city centre, which is celebrated for its colonial buildings, while Taipa is home to some of the region’s finest Macanese architecture and Coloane is known for its pristine sandy beaches.

Nowadays nearly all of the population is made up of the Han Chinese ethnic group, although there are small constituencies of Portuguese people and people of mixed Chinese and Portuguese ancestry, known as the Macanese. Cantonese and Portuguese are the region’s official languages, although English is also widely spoken. Macau is a true hybrid of cultures, with stately Portuguese churches sat side-by-side with traditional Chinese temples.

Many of the region’s most celebrated historical buildings were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 under the banner the “Historic Centre of Macau”. These include the stunning 16th-century Ruins of St. Paul’s, Igreja da Sé, the A-ma Temple, the Fortaleza do Monte, the Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, and the Old City Walls, along with 23 other sites of historic significance. The Ruins of St. Paul’s are what is left of St. Paul’s College and the Church of St. Paul, which tragically burned down in 1835. All that remains are the intricately carved southern stone façade and the underground crypts. The Old City Walls are in a comparable state of ruin, since they were originally constructed simply out of clay, sand, rice straw, rocks, and oyster shells.

Fortunately, Macau’s other historic attractions have had better luck! The Igreja da Sé is the current cathedral in Macau and was completely renovated in 1937, while the Fortaleza do Monte or “Mount Fortress” has remained virtually unchanged since 1626 and now houses the Museum of Macau. Similarly, the Sir Robert Ho Tung Library originally belonged to the mansion of a well-known Hong Kong magnate named Sir Robert Ho Tung, but was converted into a public library on his death in 1955.

In the city centre, these venerable old buildings jostle with the modern skyscrapers that make up this multi-cultural metropolis. The Macau Tower, which looms over the city at over 330 metres (1,100 ft.) in height, offers panoramic views of the surrounding area, along with built-in restaurants, theatres, shopping malls, and the thrilling Skywalk X. Visitors can bungee jump from the tower’s outer rim, although there is also a controlled and tethered “sky-jump” for the less adventurous!

For those who prefer to keep their feet firmly on the ground, Macau is famous for its myriad of delightful museums, including the Macau Museum of Art and the Macau Cultural Centre. There is even a wine museum, where visitors are welcome to taste over 50 different varieties of wine. Just be sure not to drink and drive, because Macau is known for its fast cars! The largest event of the year is the Macau Grand Prix, which takes place in November along the main streets of the Macau Peninsula.