For a country that has long had a love affair with Asian fusion, it's surprising that the U.S. hasn't seen Macanese cuisine take off. As early as the 1960s, American cooks were experimenting with blending European and Asian cuisines. Richard Wing, of Imperial Dynasty in Hanford, California, is widely credited with creating one of the first fusion cuisines when he combined French and Chinese cooking traditions at his family's restaurant in the 1960s. Wing, who closed the restaurant in 2006 after more than 120 years in operation, died this month in Hanford at the age of 89.
As for Macau's cuisine, perhaps the world's first Asian fusion, it dates from much earlier. The Portuguese, once one of the world's leading imperial forces, landed in Macau, a small peninsula and islands near Hong Kong, in the 16th century. In 1887, it officially came under Portuguese rule, not to be returned to China until 1999. During those hundred or so years, Macanese culture as we know it came to be—and, along with it, a cuisine that expresses not only the traditions of both ethnicities living there, but the flavors of other Portuguese colonies, from Brazil to Mozambique.
Upon first arriving in Macau during a recent trip, after the hour-long ferry ride from the Hong Kong airport, I wasn't hungry for much of anything. My stomach was still wonky from the 15-hour flight from New York, and the choppy boat ride hadn't helped. But I was already making a mental checklist of everything I should eat during my short stay. Until recently, Macau mostly attracted business travelers and gamblers—the two often being one and the same. The eastern side of the peninsula looks like the Vegas Strip, and in fact is home to many of the same hotels you find in Sin City. The average duration of a visit is only 36 hours.