Thursday, June 8, 2017

Extended Breakfast

In between patches of rain, we managed to conduct a Sunday morning food crawl in old town Macau as our extended breakfast on our last day of vacation. When I look beyond the dazzling casinos and shopping malls that came as a dime a dozen in the newer part of town, I actually found the old town more charming, with traditional shops inside relatively well-maintained building in mixed Chinese and European style - thanks to the Portuguese colonial influence.

Our first stop of food crawl was not inside one of those old buildings, but in between. Seng Kei Congee operates off a food cart parked at a narrow alley stuck in the middle between two modern storefronts. Right behind the cart and a few stoves were a handful of tables and chairs under the make-shift shades which protect customers from sunshine, rain, and water dripping from air-conditioner from the units above, and further back out of our sight in the alley is where the food preparation and wash-up take place. While they may not score high in the décor or hygienic category, they serve one of the best congees I have ever tried anywhere. The owner couple prepared the congee base early morning and then gave the ingredients a quick boil in the congee before serving in the bowl.

There's a good selection of ingredients with various kinds of pig offals, freshly made meatballs, beef, and carp fish slices, or one could order "a bit of everything" which was literally that. The owner's always in jubilant mood, chatting with customers, singing a few tunes of Cantopop oldies while cutting, chopping and boiling at his humble kitchen – talk about work-life balance. The congee was flavorful and smooth, slow-cooked using a meat-based broth, but the condiments were what made their bowl stood out. I particularly liked the meatballs which was freshly made using only minced pork with simple marinate. And the only other items on the menu were yau ja gwai (deep-fried dough rolls) and fresh carp fish skin, both popular condiments for a bowl of hearty congee. The place opens daily from 7:30am until all the food sold out (often before noon time), and it’s not uncommon to see people (both locals and tourists) waiting for a table or their takeaway food, so better be early and wait patiently or else you may miss out.

Seng Kei Congee, Patio do Arbridor near junction of Rua dos Mercadores and Avenue de Almeida Ribeiro
成記粥品 - 新馬路營地大街吳家圍

Yee Shun Dairy Company is not our next planned stop but one we stumbled across while scrambling to find cover under the rather heavy rain. Originated in Macau with numerous branches now spawned around town and in Hong Kong, the name Yee Shun is synchronous with the famous double-boiled milk curd dessert which originated in Guangdong's Shunde area. But little did we know this one on Avenue de Almeida Ribeiro (commonly known as New Main Street) is in fact their headquarter store. Their menu was similar to any local cha-chaan-teng with selection of drinks, sandwiches, noodles and desserts, but of course, most people came here for their signature milk-based desserts and drinks.

We both went for the traditional double-boiled milk curd served warm, which has a strong creamy flavor with a delicate, slurpy consistency, said to be prepared using a secret recipe that passed down generations. One could also opt for this to be served cold, or went for one of the topping choices (lotus seeds and red bean paste were the popular options) The place went by a number of different names (because of different Anglicization) – be that Leitaria I Son, Yee Shun, Yi Shun… they all refer to the same store. But my favorite one is the one that’s still displaying on the original shop façade – “Estabelecimento de Bebidas Leitaria e Comidas ‘Eason’”. Such classy name with perfect translation. They should have just stuck with that.

Yee Shun Dairy Company, 381 Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro
義順鮮奶 - 新馬路381號

It’s hard to imagine the old, almost rundown row houses at Rua da Felicidade were once brothels (how appropriate for the street name to mean happiness in Portuguese) Today the buildings were preserved and became bars, restaurants and shops more catered to tourists who wanted a taste of old Macau and for the other kind of happiness. At the end of the street was a traditional noodle shop called Loja Sopa da Fita Cheong Kei. It’s listed in the Michelin Guide in the Street Food section, so I figure we should give it a try. The place resembles just about any old-fashioned Cantonese noodle shop, with the kitchen in the front through the window where the bowl of noodles were prepared.

They got a long menu of noodles of different kinds, plus list of snacks and drinks. Shrimp roe dishes were their signature here, so I went for the one with wontons. Our order arrived quite quickly since it’s not particularly crowded the day we went (probably because of the rain), with my noodles arriving in a plate with the wontons and a small bowl of soup on the side. The tiny copper-colored shrimp roes spread on top of the noodles, giving it a good umami flavor, and the wontons were the old-school type with minced pork and shrimp. The noodles were not my favorite style of super bouncy type and had a rather mild flavor, but it has this nostalgic taste having made by hand using a bamboo crane to press. Probably not worth a big detour but all things considered the bowl of noodles was enjoyable at this 50-year-old shop.

Loja Sopa da Fita Cheong Kei, 68 Rua da Felicidade, Macau
祥記麵家 - 福隆新街 68 號

We ain’t quite done yet. Right across Cheong Kei we came across this peanut candy stall called Fat Boy just round the street corner. Peanut candy is a traditional local sweet treat made by frying roasted peanuts mixed with maltose together in pan at the right temperature, then let it set and cool briefly before cutting into squares and coat with shredded coconut or sesame. These days it’s mostly made out of a food factory so it’s a delightful to see one making it out at the street stall off a stove like it’s done in the past. Both the crunchy and chewy types were available and one could choose black and white sesame coating. And they were lovely and made great snacks on our ferry ride home a few hours later.

Fat Boy Peanut Candy, Street Stall on Rua da Felicidade
肥仔記 - 福隆新街車仔檔

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