Macau Red Market
Navigating the Macau wet markets begins as a daunting overwhelming experience as vendors are impatient, always giving the hostile ‘tsk’ and often times told me to stop asking questions and to go away if I wasn’t planning to buy anything from them. Then I learnt through months of persistence that beneath that steel hostile façade was endearingly helpful locals who now give me cooking tips. It’s not easy to break into the local community even if you spoke Cantonese and what better way to do this – connecting culturally through food and the freshest local produce. Macau in many ways reminds me of the wet markets in Singapore in the 80s and 90s, before mass production took its place.
A stroll down the Red Market and you’ll see there’s a great respect for local and regional produce here, various types of beancurd is made fresh daily and sell out before the end of the day, rice flour skins for spring rolls are made on the spot as are freshly pulled noodles. Coconut milk? They still sell the grated coconut here where milk is wrung out of it in a porous cheese cloth-like bag. I spent over 10 months looking for Laksa Daun kesom leaves and finally found the fragrant leaves deep in the cross roads of the street side vendors behind the Red Market. The vendor specialises in the regional vegetables; you’ll find over ten types of basils from purple to Thai to Vietnamese. There’s white aubergine, a whole range of green limes to Calamansi and beautiful purple banana flowers which I recently learnt how to cook and was given an education that it’s also added to the Pad Thai noodles dish or can be served like a salad. Think of it like an Asian version of artichoke as you handle it the same way, getting through the leaves into the heart.
Alongside the fresh fruit and vegetable vendors, there are plenty of shops that sell assorted fresh nuts, pine, almonds, cashew in raw form – you name it they have it all for the fraction of the price at Park and Shop. There’s dried and preserved versions of tasty creatures of the sea, from squid to octopus and of course the ubiquitous dried fish that we see around Macau.
Wander off further to the inner harbour by Ponte 16 in the early mornings and you’ll meet the fishermen hauling in their catch of the day. Local sole and garoupers don’t come cheap but you’ll taste the difference when it comes out freshly steamed with ginger and chives from your wok.
Behind the glitzy casino exteriors, the charming backstreets have some of the best produce. And I hope it’ll stay this way forever, in this charming grimy slow food way.
* this was written for my monthly Macau column in Macau Closer.