The Macau Collection: Bites that Love You Back

Like Art, Food Connects With the Consumer in Eureka Moments

The love of good eats

Wing Lei Palace 永利宮 VIP entrance — Cantonese restaurant, Cotai, Macau/ Photo by author

Fortunate enough to grow up in a family culture that values culinary excellence beyond flavor and plating, I relish every chance to appreciate a serious chef’s creations. I find it impressive to relate cooking to the consumer’s personality, health needs, and moods as a norm.

Despite being a modern nomad, having lived in several countries and crossed over hundreds of cities and towns in the last few decades, my love for Cantonese cuisine has never waned. Not just because I’m half Cantonese (HK), but the discerning Cantonese does not take a morsel without first asking what it does to the body. Every ingredient has its inherent health properties.

This drink has historically nourished many a poet and writer…

Creative chefs are art practitioners who, like accomplished artists, create extraordinary pieces out of ordinary materials, backed by theory and solid skills. I love classics for their unwavering qualities, yet the most touching are almost always ad hoc seasonal dishes.

I’m lucky to have reached this city of Macau now where it’s safe to dine out, having done my share of necessary months-long lockdowns and quarantines in different countries during these challenging times. And I hope dining out with company will be back to normal for the rest of the world very soon.

Yunwu green tea with sweet olive blossoms. Photo by author

It’s well into the subtropical autumn, rolling into a mild winter. To match the seasonal mood, our tea sommelier starts our dinner with a pot of fragrant, sweet olive blossoms mixed with Yunwu, the green tea from Lushan in Jiangxi, China (for the unoriented, Lushan is where Germans once found the water at the natural springs and falls so good they decided to set up a beer industry on the spot — hence the origins of the famous Chinese TsingTao Beer).

This crystal gold, smooth tea concoction speaks for itself; it soothes the respiratory system for drinkers, bringing smiles to both me and my dinner companion, who always loves a gourmet journey.

Crispy baby cucumbers with blossoms, crystalline ice plant, and yuzu. Photo by author
Yellow fish fillets with black caviar. Photo by author

To wet our appetite, Chef creates oh-so-delightful crispy baby cucumbers fried whole with blossoms, wafer thin fresh cucumber curls and leaves of crystalline ice plant, and brings them together with the slightly tart, pulpy citrus Yuzu sauce. What’s better to accompany this than with the delicate, warm protein of seasonal, plump yellow fish!

Lightly steamed and seared cut-side down on a very light rice batter, the yellow fish fillets immediately feeds to the imagination of fish bouncing in a net. Black caviar tops these, befitting this culturally rich casino city Macau, with a sprinkling of chives. Simply heavenly. Yellow fish comes in two seasons. Scrumptious harvests are coming soon again in spring. I will be sure to return.

My dinner companion (let’s call him Aldo) chooses a whole mantis shrimp with the yuzu cucumber combination. Crunchy outside and moist inside. That works just as beautifully.

Seasonal lotus roots, dried octopus and lean pork make up the soup for the evening. A simple, ancient recipe. In traditional herbalist terms and based on scientific observations, this soup has protective effects on the body¹. With its condensed flavor of ocean life and fresh water lily pond, anchored by the run of the land, this is one of my all time favorites.

Hot and sour soup with crab meat/ Photo by author

Aldo likes his hot and sour soup with crab meat which has a bit more kick. It’s rich in texture and, according to him, distinct with the taste of crab. After all, the eater controls half the culinary voyage.

Grouper fillets with eggwhite and Hua Diao wine, Iberico ham. Photo by author

My love for fish is inherent to a coastal dweller. Layering of pork and seafood is classic across multiple cultures. In this dish, Chef steams grouper fillets with egg white mixed in a little Japanese cow’s milk, and tops them with Spanish Iberico ham; that one flavor complements the other is undeniable. What raises this dish though is the 20-year aged Hua Diao wine that Chef uses to flavor the proteins, elevating the course to a whole new level.

Traditionally in Shaoxing, families make premium Hua Diao wine the year when a daughter is born, then breaks the batch open the year the daughter marries. Aroma of a mellow Hua Diao aged for 20 years is irresistible. This drink has historically nourished many a poet and writer. I certainly have an urge to pick up a bottle gourd flask of it now and sip its warmed nectar as we speak. By the way, have I mentioned this wine promotes blood circulation and metabolism²?

Roasted chicken with black truffle sauce. Photo by author

At this point, our very engaging tea sommelier presents a small, precious pot of oolong tea to go with the next course. Roasted with charcoal in a traditional process, these tea leaves are rare in this age of machine production. This brew has a ripe and restrained aroma. It goes seamlessly with my delicate, braised farm pigeon leg in the earthly black truffle sauce. Even the inconspicuous, fried half mantou on the side has an essential role of soaking up the sauce.

Aldo chooses to have his truffles with roasted boneless chicken (special lean-yet-tender breed), a smart choice for someone with a generous appetite. We know truffles do well in autumn and winter months. When trees go into resting mode, truffles take up the trees’ nutritions. As if we need an excuse to devour the delicacy, do we know that truffles are rich in antioxidants and other important nutrients as well³? Hmm…now the shavings make perfect sense.

Rack of Te Mana lamb roasted in lychee wood. Photo by author

Roasted rack of Te Mana lamb with cumin is part of Chef’s lychee wood barbecue series. Simply succulent, bursting with flavors minus the sometimes unwelcome taste associated with sheep.

As a child, I noticed adults of the house would busy themselves in winter, cooking dishes to keep everyone warm. Every now and then dishes like mutton and tofu-skin casserole would appear on the dinner table, and I would pick other dishes to eat, quietly, hoping to be spared. This lamb course totally changed my obstinate view of any meat from sheep. As a winter course, sheep does warm the stomach.

Isn’t it awesome that sciences are gradually catching up.

White noodles in green scallion pesto. Photo by author

No, not spaghetti. These fresh white noodles are having a stardust moment. Carbs usually come towards the later part of dinner in Cantonese tradition. Green pesto of all kinds is common in Mediterranean territories. I always have a soft spot for the Italian basil pesto, but this simple blend of the humble scallion and canola oil, with a touch of peanut oil and sea salt, impresses the palate with its unmatched distinct flavor. The scallion pesto rightly takes over center stage.

Black tiger’s paw fungus, long cabbage, white wood ear fungus. Photo by author

Calling to all vegetable buffs! This dish is like none other, featuring the rare black tiger’s paw fungus, highly valued in East and Southeast Asia for its preventative medicinal properties⁴ but uncommon in the U.S. and European countries.

For centuries, royals have happily devoured this deeply aromatic fungus originating from the mountains. On my plate, this velvety black fungus takes up one side of the oval palette, while its immunity boosting cousin — the crunchy white version of wood ear fungus⁵— takes the other, joined with juicy, tender long cabbages. Quite a pleasing sight.

Roasted porcini mushrooms, pumpkin leaves. Photo by author

Nutty, roasted porcini mushrooms find their way to my dinner companion’s vegetable plate, adding a luxury note to the tender pumpkin leaves coursing through chicken broth. The meaty porcini is richer in protein⁶, unlike most mushrooms; its niche in fine cuisines instantly gives the under-stated, nourishing pumpkin leaves an unusual status.

Fish maw, red dates bamboo pith, lily bulbs. Photo by author

To round off his gourmet journey, Aldo chooses chilled sago cream with mango and pomelo. I prefer warm endings, especially in cool months. Something rare on the dessert menu catches the eye: Double-boiled fish maw with red dates, bamboo pith and lily bulbs. Why? Health benefits, of course.

Fish maw, believed to be a good source of collagen and nutrients, is a delicacy not only for the affluent, as fisherpeople consume them as well. These gourmet slices of tender protein have a perfect balance of bite and yield.

Since time immemorial, red dates⁷, bamboo pith⁸ and lily bulbs⁹ have been part of a larger Cantonese herbal diet to maintain equilibrium, one ingredient balancing the other, for those with suitable body types. Isn’t it awesome that sciences are gradually catching up. This delectable sweet soup rounds up my autumn evening with a golden note.

I admire food critics for their gold palate, but even more so, I appreciate the chefs for their total involvement, and the sincere, artful serving team for their product knowledge. In certain cultures, it is customary to express thanks to the chef after each meal. I find the practice appropriate and endearing regardless of geography. So let me say this here, “Thank you for your thoughtful creations.”

I personally have not met Chef Tam at this point. But in the course of enjoying this journey, it is as if he were communicating directly with the guest, exchanging thoughts on life experiences and preferences. Like visual art, food connects with the consumer in Eureka moments. And that, to me, is the essence of culinary art.

(The author does not represent any industry or brand name.)

Seu
© PseuPending 2021

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PseuPending (Seu)

PseuPending (Seu)

Leisure is a path to the thinking process. Museum Educator/ Contemporary Art Researcher/ Modern Nomad/ Lover of Good Eats. Top writer in Food

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