Modern Macau is the Las Vegas of Asia. As the only legal casino gambling venue in the region, approximately 12 million gamblers head yearly to this tiny Administration Region to place their bets. Modern-style casino hotels dominate the peninsula and island’s skyline. Even the Las Vegas casinos have gotten into the action. Just like Hong Kong has its copy of Disneyland, Macau has its versions of Vegas’ Wynn and Venetian Casinos. Or should it be that Las Vegas is the Macau of North America? The gambling revenues in small Macau now are thought to be 4 times higher than from the entire Las Vegas strip!
We didn’t come to Macau to gawk at the over the top opulence of the casinos. Nor did we come to shop. Hong Kong, with 7 million people, easily has more shopping than Macau with its population of 544,600 anyway. Instead were interested in seeing Macau’s noted historical sites. In a small corridor on the peninsula portion of Macau, a glimpse of the area’s past can be seen in its UNESCO designated sites.
Macau does not have the numerous public transportation options of Hong Kong. For us the easiest way to get about is to take a taxi. It is cheap, about $5 US, for most of the destinations. So we began our UNESCO exploration with a short taxi ride from Pousada de Mong-Há to the A-Ma Temple.
We find temples fascinating. There’s one thing, though. The A-Ma temple, like all of the Buddhist temples we visited, pumps out dense choking clouds of blue-gray incense smoke. The temples are doing their part to maintain the regions smoggy skies. Visitors leave fistfuls of incense rods smoldering in the temple intending to purify the surroundings to bring forth the supernatural presence. It seems that incense sticks are like Lays potato chips: Nobody can eat, or light, just one. Personally we are not sure that the incense brings forth the paranormal. We are sure that the smoke did call into view a pair of scruffy looking tourists.
From the A-Ma Temple we wandered north visiting the numerous UNESCO designated religious buildings, both Chinese and Western, and colonial Portuguese civil and military structures. All of the structures are beautifully restored. It was a glimpse into Macau’s history.
Near the end of our tour we reached the Ruins of St. Paul. The Ruins is the remaining early 17th Century façade of the Cathedral of St. Paul. The cathedral was destroyed in a fire and typhoon in 1835. Down the steps from the Ruins our stomachs took over. The walk about had developed our appetites. A snack of hot roasted chestnuts only made things worse.
It took an effort but we avoided the frequent shops selling Macau’s famous pressed meats. We figured the meats must be like Bee Cheng Hiang’s highly addictive bakkwa that induced withdrawal cravings in Hong Kong. It was a sketchy act of self-control to pass the pressed meat markets. Another binge and we might have become cured meat junkies. Our days might have ended wandering Macau’s streets looking for another slab fix.
The next temptation we couldn’t pass. A short way down a small side street, 3 Beco da Palha, we watched a small storefront pump out order after order of pot stickers. The food stall, Loja de Comidas Sio Seong Hoi, offers exactly eleven items on its menu board. By far the most popular item offered is the Shanghai Dumplings. In the back of the shop, four people rolled out the dough and hand-formed it around the ground pork filling. At the front of the house, one person fried up batches of the pot stickers at a rate around 75 for every 5 minutes. At 1.20 Macau Pataca each (about 15-cents US), the pot stickers sold out instantaneously. First we ordered four. The dumplings were delivered in a small plastic shopping bag. (Most people ordered more; they took their batches away in boxes.) Condiments, chili sauce and soy sauce, were available on the side as were large toothpicks to use as utensils.
With the first bite there was no doubt why the dumplings are so popular. The dough of the cooked pot stickers is perfect. It’s gooey steamed on the top with just the right about of tooth resistance and crispy caramelized on the bottom. The filling is an accent to the dumpling. There’s just enough filling to flavor the pot stickers but not enough to get in the way of the main event, the dough. These are the best pot stickers I’ve ever had. It is not even close.
Four was not enough. We ordered 6 more and waited for the batch of orderly laid out dumplings in the big circular frying pan to finish cooking.
“How did you find this place?” another waiting customer asked us.
We told him that we had seen it along the side street and decided to check it out.
“It’s really quite famous,” he added.
Famous amongst the Macanese locals, I assume.
All I know is that I’m bee-lining to Loja de Comidas Sio Seong Hoi if I’m back in Macau. Indeed, I’d consider a day trip from Hong Kong just to have another bag. I can still taste them. I need more. Did we narrowly avoid the pressed meat addiction only to succumb to an equally insidious food vice?
Later we watch steamed sugar cane being pressed into juice at a shop at 7 B Rua sul do Mercado de S. Domingo. Shops that prepare cane this way are not uncommon in the region. The warm sweet cane nectar is added to lemon juice and served to waiting customers. We had a bottle. It was not too sweet and was comforting on the stomach. If I’d known we were going have the lemon cane juice later, I would have had another dozen pot stickers. Make that two-dozen, please.
In this area of the world it seems that even when the goal is sightseeing the highlight ends up being the food. At least that’s how it worked for us. Our stomachs must have known something when they planned this trip.
The full picture set can be found on Picasa.