Chef Florita Alves is on a mission to sustain the legacy of Macanese cuisine. With a tradition dating back more than 400 years, Macau’s native cuisine, a blend of Portuguese and Chinese recipes, is widely considered the world’s first fusion food. In addition to travelling the world to promote the art of Macanese gastronomy and rich culinary traditions, chef Florita has recently introduced a handpicked menu of Macanese favourites at La Famigilia restaurant in Taipa Village.
Can you tell us a bit about the origins of Macanese cuisine?
Macanese food is fusion food. It’s a result of the Portuguese, who came to Macau 450 years ago. They wanted to eat the food they ate at home, but couldn’t and so they adapted what was available to them, and that’s how Macanese cuisine was born. There’s a lot of Chinese, Malay and Indian influence as well.
Is there one influence in Macanese cuisine that is stronger than the others?
I would say there’s probably more Portuguese influence in Macanese cuisine than Chinese influence. That said, it’s still very much a fusion cuisine. The main cooking methods are Portuguese, and then the ingredients are southeast Asian. Another big influence is the spices we use. India is the most influential when it comes to spices – turmeric for us is one of the main ingredients in Macanese food.
What are some of its signature dishes?
Minchi is like the national dish of Macau – it’s a mix of minced beef or pork, diced fried potatoes, onions and soy sauce.
Portuguese chicken is also another popular Macanese dish. You won’t find Portuguese chicken in Portugal – the dish just uses the name. It’s a braised coconut chicken stew with coconut milk, shredded coconut and some turmeric.
African chicken is another popular Macanese dish. It was created by a local chef called Angelo, who used to work at the Pousada Macau, a resort hotel. He created this dish with a strong African influence, but he used his own sauce with gravy of shredded coconut, Tabasco and a few other ingredients. Luckily, I have the original recipe, but I also like to modify it a little to make my own version. You won’t find the dish in Africa; it’s a signature Macanese dish.
When did your interest in cooking Macanese cuisine first begin?
My cooking skills come from an early age. When I was very small, I had to help my grandma a lot with cooking in the house. Luckily, I also had the opportunity to taste the cooking of some of the most respected Macanese cooks in Macau, some of them are quite elderly now.
Do you create your own recipes?
My recipes tend to come from elderly relatives, mostly my husband’s aunt, who has now passed away. She had a recipe book from the 1850s – a handwritten recipe book that I still use. The recipes are written in the old way, with just the main ingredients and not much about the quantities. So I have to experiment with the ingredients, the amounts that I use, and the cooking methods to see if I can come up with the final product.
Is Macanese cuisine an important part of helping to preserve the local Macanese culture?
Since after the handover from Portuguese rule back to China in 1999, the Macanese community seems to be a small community here in Macau. So how can we preserve our culture and let other citizens of Macau know that we still exist? We’ve found that using our Macanese food culture is the easiest way. After all, everyone needs to eat! When it comes to preserving a culture, I think food is the most direct and easy way to have a stronger impact.
Does the food help to bring the local Macanese community together as well?
For our Macanese community, eating is a strong custom. The community does sometimes come together for something that we call ‘cha gordo’, its direct translation in English is ‘fat tea’. Essentially, it’s a rich Macanese food spread that brings together families in Macau. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen as much as it used to. In our parents’ times, few women worked in Macau, so they stayed at home and they cooked a lot and it was easier to prepare these cha gordo style tea spreads and special dinners. Nowadays, everyone works and a lot of the people don’t know how to cook, so we lost a bit of our tradition that way. However, the people who do cook, when they make these cha gordo or special dinners, the community does come together and people appreciate it and love to participate.
Do you find that many people are interested to learn how to cook Macanese food?
I think inspiration is very important in encouraging our younger generations to continue the tradition of cooking Macanese cuisine. Like my son, he wants to travel and feels that cooking Macanese cuisine can be too time consuming, but by tasting the food at the restaurant, or even at home, I think he will become inspired and want to try cooking it himself. Also, I think when the younger generations start their own families, they will want to cook these dishes for their children. It’s also a good way to get together with friends and family.
What dishes can people look forward to eating on your new Macanese menu at La Famiglia restaurant in Taipa Village?
We have three floors and a veranda on the rooftop complete with a bar and stunning views. Diners can enjoy dishes such as minchi (sautéed minced pork), capela (Macanese meatloaf), African chicken (Macanese piri piri chicken), sapateira recheada (stuffed crab on the shell), fried shrimp with garlic butter sauce, sautéed clams in white wine sauce, fried bacalhau (cod) a brás, grilled Angus T-bone, Portuguese suckling pig and seafood casserole. We also have a very generous selection of wines and cocktails on offer to complement the array of Macanese flavours.
As a culinary ambassador for Macanese cuisine, how do you plan to continue promoting the cuisine and its unique heritage?
My mission is to inspire the community with the authenticity of Macanese food. Through this restaurant I will be able to introduce some of my favourite Macanese dishes. I’m hoping people can discover or rediscover Macanese food this way and possibly even be inspired to cook it themselves. I do my commercial part, but also with a cultural intention, so that people can still enjoy the food and the tradition of Macanese cuisine. Food ultimately brings people together, and so it can only be a good thing.
Address: Rua dos Clérigos No. 76, Taipa Village, Macau
Operating hours: Monday to Sunday: 12:00pm – 2:30pm and 6.00pm – 10.30pm
Reservations: +853 6320 2320