At a recent charity event, I bid on a set of cookbooks which included one called Fat Rice, featuring the cuisine of Macau (Fat Rice is also the name of a Chicago restaurant featuring food from the area). As my grandmother was from Macau, I was extremely intrigued by the very existence of the book – Macanese food isn’t exactly on the top of everyone’s minds when it comes to various Chinese cuisines. In fact, many people outside of the diaspora may never even have HEARD of Macau, a former Portuguese colony about an hour’s ferry ride away from Hong Kong (and now is the Vegas of Asia – if you know what I mean). Getting this book is a way for me to learn MORE about my roots without having to purchase a plane ticket. After all, the best way to learn about a culture is through its food.
To tell you the truth, the only Macanese dish I was REALLY familiar with was po kok gai (which translates to “Portuguese chicken.” And no, it’s NOT Portuguese AT ALL), a chicken and potato curry. My grandmother wasn’t the world’s best chef – even by home chef standards – and made more “standard” Cantonese dishes when it came to anything Chinese-related. From the book’s recipes, you can tell its cultural influences from the Portuguese, in addition to some from various regions the they explored, such as Mozambique and India (piri-piri and turmeric, for example, are seen in many dishes). There is definitely more of a melange of tastes in Macanese cooking than, say, Hong Kong, where both my parents grew up. Hong Kong cuisine is what one finds in a cha chaan teng – over-salted, over-cooked casseroles made with sauces from condensed soups. Then again, the British aren’t exactly known for good food and I guess its colonies knew it. So you know…
I haven’t made anything from the book just yet – and I am hoping to work my way through the entire thing (or attempt to, anyway). I’ll likely make changes to suit my tastes, such as using sweet potatoes or squash in place of regular potatoes for po kok gai (and yes, this will be my first attempt). Another dish I want to try is empada de peixe (fish pie), or as the cookbook calls it, “Macanese” fish pie, with a filling of fish, nuts, olives, parsley, firm cheese, spices and a brandy and port infused crust. This one would be a little more difficult as I’ve never made pastry dough from scratch before. I could, of course, use store-bought and just add the port and/or brandy into the filling itself (saves me time, anyway).
I’m not sure how my grandmother would feel if she were still alive. I don’t think she ever really wanted me to be in the kitchen – she thought it wasn’t “lady-like,” and never taught my mother to cook either. I had to beg and plead to do anything when I was little, explaining that it was for Brownie or Guide project. Not a typical poh poh, right? Anyway, this is a good way for me to explore my background a little bit. Anyway, wish me luck with the cooking!!