from your left/da sua esquerda - Mário Machado, Sonny Castro, Glória Sequeira, Cíntia Luz Sales, Joy Xavier and/e Neil Xavier

The Macanese Have a Fusion Cuisine 400 Years Old

by Margaret Sheridan / Los Angeles Times - April 23, 1997

photos by Iris Schneider

Many people set the buffet table with flowers and candles.  At a Macanese potluck, flags are added.

When Barbara and Delano Pereira had 16 Macanese American friends over for lunch on a recent Sunday, they ran out of room on the table. Searching for space amid the jigsaw of platters, tureens, bowls and plates, the hostess finally removed the candles. The flags - red for Portugal and periwinkle blue for Macao - were more important.



Macao, about 43 miles (a 50-minute jet-foil ride) from Hong Kong, is the oldest European settlement on the South China coast. The Macanese are descendants of Portuguese sailors and traders who went to Asia and eventually married Indonesians, Malaysians, Chinese, Indians, Filipinas and Thais.



In recent decades, the Macanese nave become a tiny minority in Macao. Of a population of 400,000, only 9000 are Macanese; almost all the rest are Chinese. Few Macanese, and practically none among the younger generation, still understand the Macanese patois, a dialect of Portuguese.



Meanwhile, Macanese have scattered around the world not only to Portugal and Brazil but to Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, and California. Delano Pereira, president of the Southern California chapter of the United Macau Assn.. estimates that there are about 260 Macanese in Los Angeles and about 860 in Northern California. Members of his group maintain contact with other chapters through newsletters. an Internet site and reunions in Macao sponsored by the colony’s government.



As the time approaches for China to take control of Macao on Dec. 20, 1999, in accord with a 1987 agreement between Lisbon and Beijing, these expatriate Macanese are experiencing a heightened sentimentality for the Macanese food, culture and lifestyle of their youth:



"Most of us no longer own land there. and our relatives have died," says Pereira. "There was a mass exodus in the '50s for political reasons. Then the economic refugees in the '60s wanted a better life."



At the Pereiras' potluck, guests swapped travel plans and tales of past visits. "Eating was a big reason we attended the reunion last October," explained Pereira, referring to their trip to Macao to participate in the government-organized event. Many intend to go to the next reunion of overseas Macanese in April 1998, and some plan to return to witness the hand-over ceremonies in 1999.



Since, at least to Pereira's knowledge, there are no Macanese restaurants in the United States, the only way to experience the sort of food being served at this potluck is by invitation to a home.



Macanese food is 400-year-old fusion cuisine. Although it began as Portuguese. it changed radically when Chinese amahs (maids) took over the cooking and began substituting local ingredients for the hard-to-get European im-ports. The result: Chinese Staples such as congee (rice porridge) and dim sum share the Macanese table with Portuguese wine and Portugal’s eggy custards, sardines and beloved codfish.



The Macanese larder borrows from the former Portuguese colonies: sweet potatoes, peanuts, kidney beans and fruits from Brazil, fiery piri-piri" peppers from Mozambique, saffron and spices from such Indian enclaves as Goa. Much of the food is rich and heavy, labor-intensive and hardly slimming, especially the dairy-rich baked goods.



"Can you believe this cake?" asked 82-year-old Ismalia Perpetuo, Barbara Pereira's mother, as she gestured toward her bolo menino (baby cake), which she had made the day before. "The recipe calls for 10 yolks. And that’s the smallest recipe I could find."



It is in savory dishes that you see the signs of culinary fusion, say Barbara Pereira and Gloria Sequeira. Dishes are flavored with soy sauce and enriched with olive oil and dairy products. The cuisine also features Chinese herbs, greens (especially bok choy and gaai han), barbecued meats, Chinese ham, sausage and seafood, Portugal’s codfish (bacalhau) and an odoriferous Southeast Asían dried shrimp paste, balichão, that makes your nose twitch.



Instead of chopsticks, Macanese use cutlery. Although Chinese eat rice without sauce, usually at the end of a meal, Macanese flavor it with sauce and use it as a base of a meal. A typícal morning in Macao may begin with congee and dim sum and finish with curried crab, vaca stofada (beef pot roast), Portuguese wine and mango pudding.



The savory empanada-like turnovers on Pereira's buffet. tempra chilicotte, were filled with ground meat and turnips. Pereira pointed out that the use of won ton wrappers. green onions and (often) soy sauce makes them Macanese.



What looked like a plate of yellow cotton candy turned out to be fofo, strands of fried codfish flavored and colored with saffron. A bitter squash soup with ground pork got its sour. salty edge from balichão. (Although some cooks still make their own balichão, Pereira and her friends buy it from Asiau markets and doctor it to suit their tastes). A shrimp curry was enriched with unsweetened coconut milk and fresh okra.



The drink of the day. chilled Portuguese vinho verde (a tart young wine with a fruity zing), stood up well to the spicy sausages and fatty meats of Macanese cooking.



Vinho verde is hard to find in Los Angeles; Delano Pereira bought it through a Portuguese friend in Artesia. Portuguese cheese, breads, coconut tarts and sausages are available from Portazil Pastry, a Portuguese and Brazilian store in Artesia.



Some think this is an endangered cuisine. "Young Macanese these days would rather make pasta or do a stírfry for dinner than slave over stews and sausage casseroles," says Gloria Sequeira, a mother of seven who lives ín Downey. "My kids aren't interested in these recipes."



Her contributions to the buffet at the Pereiras' included galinha à portuguesa (chicken braised with chouriço sausage and olives), a sticky coconut rice pudding (thicker than the Thai style) and genete, a melt-ín-the-mouth cookie made from cornstarch instead of flour.



But the Macanese love of their food may yet preserve it. "This is what Macanese do best," said Alexandre C. Sales, ladling caldo verde, a potato-thickened kale soup, into a bowl. "Everything revolves around food. We love to eat."



Sonny Castro, Ismalia Perpétuo and Guido Sequeira



(Minchi Com Batata Frita)

In the United States, we make sloppy Joes. In Macao, every housewife has a version of minchi and a secret ingredient or trick that makes hers truly special. Few restaurants in Macao dare to serve this dish because it's so plain and homey. Besides, most customers would complain that their mother's version is better.

This recipe comes from Cíntia Luz Sales. Her secret, she says, is brown sugar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch



1 cup vegetable oil

3 large red or white boiling potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch or smaller dice


- Heat olive oil in skillet and sauté onion and garlic, about 5 minutes. Add beef and pork and cook until browned and cooked through.

- Combine soy sauces with sugar and cornstarch and add to meat mixture. Add pepper to taste and mix well.

- Fry potatoes in small batches in hot vegetable oil in separate skillet until golden. Drain and salt.

- Before serving, add potatoes to meat and mix well.

Serve immediately.

8 to 10 servings. Each of 10 servings:

383 calories; 404 mg sodium; 48 mg cholesterol; 33 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 14 grams protein; 0.22 gram fiber.




The Macanese touches in this Portuguese classic are the green onions in the fllling and the use of won ton skins instead of pastry dough. Depending on taste, the filling can be seasoned with hot pepper sauce or saffron.

The recipe comes from Barbara Pereira

6 green oníons

1 tablespoon corn oil, plus extra for frying

1 pound lean ground pork

3 pounds white turnips, peeled, shredded

Salt, pepper

2 packages won ton skins



- Rinse and fineiy chop onions. Heat 1 tablespoon oil and sauté onions over medium heat until limp. Add pork and cook until meat is browned and thoroughly cooked, about 8 minutes. Add turnips and stir until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and cool.



- Fill won ton skin with l tablespoon of filling. Moisten ends of won ton skin and fold over, pressing to seal.

Repeat process until ali filling is used.

- Heat about 3 inches oil in pan. Fry in small batches until golden brown, about 45 seconds per side. Drain

on paper towels. Serve immediately.

7 dozen. Each empanada:

21 calories; 17 mg sodium; 3 mg cholesterol; l gram fat; l gram carbohydrates; l gram protein; 0.15 gram fiber.




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