Journalist Sarah Efron explores strip malls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in search of the city's best ethnic food

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sample the strange dishes of Macau, right here in Toronto

Downtown Toronto chefs at restaurants like The People's Eatery and Oddseoul have made names for themselves by serving creative fusions of Asian and Western food. But the strange legacy of colonialism has produced culinary experiments that are far more inventive. One of the oddest real-life experiments has to be the food of Macau, the island city off the coast of China that was a Portuguese colony until 1999. 

Macau, which is just an hour ferry ride from Hong Kong, is better known for its gambling dens than its hybrid Chinese/Portuguese cuisine. But if you're curious, there is one place I know of in Toronto to get Macanese food: a stall called Macau/Portuguese Food in the food court of New Kennedy Square, an extremely busy Chinese mall on Kennedy Road south of Highway 7 in Markham. The restaurant was created by Joe Ng, a former chef at Macau's Mandarin Oriental hotel. 

As a non-Cantonese speaker, ordering food was a comedy of errors. There are multiple menus with several different numbering systems. After several attempts, assistance from another patron and an inexplicable four glasses of soy milk later, we had a feast of interesting dishes at the table. 

African chicken (below) is a classic dish of Macau. It's a tasty slab of chicken cooked with garlic and coconut milk and slathered with a slightly spicy red sauce. The dish is said to have been originally created by a Macanese hotel chef who was inspired by a trip to one of Portugal's African colonies. 

The ox tongue in port wine sauce (above) has a definite Iberian flavour. The tongue is fatty and tender, like a carefully stewed brisket, and undeniably tasty.

The pork cutlet (below) is another Macanese classic. The crispy coating and tangy tartar sauce make this a stand out dish. In fact my dining companion, writer Adam McDowell, said it was even better than the similar pork chop bun he sampled during a his recent visit to Macau.

Next up was the Macau-style lamb curry (above left), a mildly-spiced dish with good quality chunks of stewed lamb with red and green peppers. A surprise hit was the cod fried rice (above right). It was packed with a generous amount of Portugal's iconic fish, and topped with olives in in true Mediterranean style.

Not only is this food unique in Toronto, it's also dirt cheap. Most things on the menu are $6 or less, so there's little risk in sampling a wide range of these fascinating dishes.

Macau/Portuguese Food (Macau & Portuguese Five Star Hotel Foods) is located at New Kennedy Square food court, 8360-8362 Kennedy Road, Markham, just south of Highway 7. Telephone: 905 475 3868. Hours are Monday to Sunday 10am to 9pm; closed Wednesday. 

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