The 12th of January came with a cold rain in Hong Kong. It felt much colder than thermometer indicated. The wet cold, as they say, made 42 degrees Fahrenheit seem like 32. It was a penetrating chill. A Chinese-Canadian couple at Vancouver’s international airport told us before our flight to Hong Kong that the wet cold this time of year would be particularly penetrating. We’d have to agree. And even with the rain, the persistent smog lingered. But we couldn’t just bivouac in our cold hotel room. This was our day to relocate to nearby Macau.
We weren’t heading to nearby Macau for a change of climate. The weather in the former Portuguese colony is near identical to Hong Kong’s weather So, you might ask, why did we decide to go to Macau in the middle our short trip to Hong Kong? It would be a good question. But we can’t help you on this. How our itinerary evolves during the planning process is never transparent, even to us. Maybe our stomachs were calling the shots again and knew something we didn’t. We’d certainly find some culinary gems on this small archipelago/peninsula. But it’s not something that we knew ahead of time. In any event, a side trip to Macau from Hong Kong is not so uncommon.
The Portuguese settled Macau in the 16th Century well before the British acquired Hong Kong. As with Hong Kong, Macau’s sovereignty was returned to the People’s Republic of China at the end of the 20th Century. The peninsula and small group of islands across a narrow channel from China is now, like Hong Kong, a Special Administration Region (SAR). As such, the visa requirements for most Westerners are straightforward, assuming of course that you are not an international fugitive. I’d be fine. And Becky’s felonious history seems to have not yet reached Interpol. We’d be cleared at the border, it seemed.
Macau is about 60 minutes by ferry from Hong Kong. Mainland China stays in view to starboard most of the journey. Soon enough we were off the boat, through immigration and customs, and outside into Macau’s equally cold, wet, and smoggy weather.
Our base in Macau was Pousada de Mong-Há. This old Portuguese building complex is a functioning hotel and an educational center for hotel and restaurant management. Students man the front desk. Though the facilities are dated, the rooms are large and the service is particularly eager. We’d take liberal advantage of the service. The only real problem with the Pousada was the half a day it took for the room to heat up.
We’d finally get warm for the first time in Macau when we headed to dinner at Tim’s Kitchen for dinner. Located off the casino floor in the Hotel Lisboa, this Cantonese restaurant has received two Michelin stars.
The foodies in Hong Kong who expect transparent logic from Michelin don’t understand why the Macau branch of Tim’s Kitchen receives two stars and the Hong Kong twin receives only one star. We didn’t try both so we have nothing to add on this.
In fact, the whole Michelin rating logic in Hong Kong and Macau is foreign to us. Something has been lost in translation. The standards applied in Europe and the United States are very different from those used in Macau and Hong Kong. In the West, Michelin rates restaurants as the best dining destinations. In Hong Kong and Macau, the ratings seem to be more about judging the best food for the price. Fine dining is not a criterion. I’m happy enough with that. Every Michelin starred restaurant we visited in Asia offers superb food.
Tim’s Kitchen followed the Michelin rating trend for South Asia. It was the best classic Cantonese dinner that we’ve ever had, though that distinction is relatively close. Still, if the Hong Kong and Macau Michelin standards were applied globally there’d be plenty of one-starred taquerias and taco trucks in the Bay Area.
A course-by-course account of our meal:
A complimentary starter came as a Century egg. The “white” of this preserved egg has a brown gelatin look; the yolk is jet black. The wait staff advised us to put sugar and pickled ginger on the egg. We did, but maybe we didn’t put enough on? Can there ever be enough? On the palate, the clear brown portion starts like the white of typical hard-boiled egg. Things change when you get to the jet-black colored yolk. The flavor is something entirely different to anything that I’ve eaten. At the start the yolk’s essence is a little funky in a locker room sort of way. Soon the flavors turn to fermented, decayed, and rotten. There’s a strong pungent amine smell. It does not taste like something that should be eaten. It tastes like something that should be buried or, more correctly, left buried. Wikipedia says that it is merely a myth that soaking eggs in horse urine produces century eggs. We say that the horse urine might have helped the experience.
OK, I’m a believer that many favorites start out at the edge of taste tolerance and then, with time, become acquired tastes. Kimchi was that way for me. It has a weird fermented taste that I grew to like. And now I love kimchi. But I don’t think my life is going to be long enough to acquire a taste for preserved century eggs. They’re seriously twisted. I don’t think I can get them past the lips again. Even looking at them will be hard enough. And for something perfectly prepared, it is the worst thing I’ve ever eaten. Fortunately the rest of the meal did not feature any more century eggs. Let’s hope the same goes for the rest of my life.
Crystal King Prawn
This is a simple, mildly flavored dish that emphasizes the texture of the prawn more than the crustacean’s flavor. Could there be anything that would be more of a contrast to the Century Egg?
Again this is a mildly flavored and fresh dish. The winter melon has a texture like steamed zucchini. The crab of the region is mildly flavored with little crab essence.
This is a typical Chinese style soup that uses snake as its meat. Chrysanthemum pedals and Chinese parsley aromatics were added on top and provided interesting and unusual aromatics to the dish. The snake meat itself in this preparation has little flavor. Where the meat shines is its texture that is somewhere between fish and poultry. It is ideal for this style of soup. We liked this dish.
I must admit that I was now very concerned about eating any food item that was labeled “preserved.” The fears were unfounded for this dish. The frittata styled egg dish would be at home in any Western kitchen. Could I have this for breakfast tomorrow?
Just like the crispy five spice chicken we’ve all had with Chinese dinners except that the five-spice is particularly strong in the star anise. And, of course, pigeon is not quite as meaty as chicken nor does it taste quite the same as chicken.
We’re big fans of the intense flavors of the dark green Chinese greens. At home we eat Gai Lan or another Asian green at least once a week. But I don’t think we’ve ever had Chinese Watercress. The greens in this dish were served simply in a broth. The texture was perfectly tender and the greens were deeply flavored.
Our meal at Tim’s Kitchen got off to a rough start with the Century Egg. But beyond, the egg, everything we were served was excellent. And we are pretty sure that a Century Egg served at Tim’s Kitchen must have been a good example of the dish, also. (We likely will never do a comparison tasting!) It truly is one of the best full Cantonese meals that we have ever had. Now if can just forget about that egg….