To many people, Macau means one thing: casinos. This little special administrative region of China that was both the first and last European colony in Asia, makes more money from gambling than Las Vegas. It’s a hot destination for rich mainland Chinese.

To me it was about visiting an anomaly: a territory with a curious history, a city of attractive architectural leftovers, and tasting a cuisine that fuses the best of Portuguese and Southern Chinese.

I got what I came for. Beautiful mosaic-like, pedestrian-only zones leading to churches named Lorenzo, Agostinho, and Domingos. I dined on Portuguese chicken—a Macanese specialty hot pot dish loaded with chicken, potatoes, onions, sausage, and boiled eggs in a mild coconut-based, curry-like sauce. I sat in nighttime squares lit with yellow streetlamps. I sipped good coffee and nibbled Portuguese pastries.

I also examined the other side of Macau tourism. A quick walk through the floor of Wynn Casino gave me the impression of a very serious gambling scene. No drinking—just straight up sobriety, with a little nicotine to fuel the adrenaline. Majority Chinese at baccarat, roulette, poker, and blackjack tables.

There is also today’s Macau, the city that’s 95% Cantonese/Chinese with noisy traffic, bustling markets, and great Cantonese food. A look through Red Market introduced me to dozens of fish and shellfish I couldn’t name in addition to almost every part of pig. Lin Fung Temple, far from the tourist zone in north Macau, was a great place to witness locals lighting insense and making offerings of fruit and hell money. Nearby, Lou Lim Leoc Garden is an exquisite urban sanctuary with ponds, pavilions, miniature trees, and arching bridges. There I saw a woman practicing what looked like Tai Chi with a sword.

different sides of Macau

Portuguese-style chicken in Macau

 

St Domingos Church
St Domingos Church

detail of Lin Fung Temple
Detail of Lin Fung Temple

insense inside Lin Fung Macau
Lighting Insense at Lin Fun Temple

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Shellfish at Red Market

shellfish for sale at Red Market Macau
Shellfish for sale at Red Market in Macau

pigs blood
Pig’s Blood

butcher at Red Market in Macau
A Butcher at Red Market in Macau

Street market in Macau
A Street Market in Macau

roasted pigeons
Roasting Pigeons in Macau

bridge in Lou Lim Leoc Garden in Macau
A bridge in Lou Lim Leoc Gardens in Macau