China’s Macau and Portugal all tarted up


What do the Chinese island of Macau and Portugal have in common? Delicious little tarts. How can I describe Macau? The unlikely cultural combination of Africa, Portugal, China and India make this one of the most vivid island states in the world. Until 1999 it was an overseas territory of Portugal. The Portuguese may have gone but the architecture, cultural influences and food remain.

Millions of visitors go to Macau, a short ferry ride from Hong Kong, for the culture, cuisine and the entertainment. And the gambling. The Chinese love to gamble, and this place rakes in more money than Las Vegas.

Portuguese egg tarts are Macau’s most famous snack. They’re different from the egg tarts you’ll find in Cantonese dim sum restaurants. Macau’s has a buttery flaky pastry shell with a custard filling that has a crème brulee-like consistency and a crispy caramelized sugar top. As one tourism expert says: Bite into the crisp top, sink your teeth into the creamy filling and chew on the buttery pastry – you’ll feel like there’s a party going on in your mouth.

In Portugal, in the waterside Lisbon suburb of Belem, a cavernous blue-tiled pastry-and-coffee house serves thousands of custard tarts every day. The tarts at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem even have a special name: pasteis de Belem.

Residents of Lisbon and tourists flock to the Confeitaria for tarts packaged in nifty cardboard tubes with sachets of icing sugar and cinnamon. It serves an average 10,000 Pasteis de Belém (custard tarts) a day, a specialty made with a secret recipe that apparently dates back to a monastery in 1837. You can have them inside the large rooms covered with 17th-century tiles, or take away in special paper tubes holding half a dozen.

All the excitement of Macau will be on show on October 15-16 at the inaugural Macau Festival 2011 in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. Organised by the Macau Government Tourist Office (Australia and New Zealand), the event will feature a free program of contemporary and traditional Portuguese dance, Lion dancing, song and music. There will also be free activities for children, and plenty of Portuguese and Chinese food. Coinciding with the festival will be a Macau Food Week at Four Seasons Hotel Sydney from October 14-21.

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