By Jonathan Evans
The southern half of Macau is split into three areas with entirely distinct identities. At the foot of the territory is serene Coloane, with its beaches, parks and churches; touristy Cotai occupies the reclaimed central portion; and in the north, there’s Taipa, whose enchanting village fuses old architecture and traditional lifestyles with modern businesses, while retaining its unique Portuguese-Chinese personality.
Taipa Village harks back to the low-rise Portuguese world of pre-handover days. Multicoloured shophouses animate its streetscapes; cobblestoned squares and Catholic churches such as Our Lady of Carmel (1885) bestow an unmistakably European flavour. Only the sporadic sight of a Chinese temple and a scattering of cha chaan teng (tea houses) remind you this is Asia, not Europe.
Our Lady of Carmel Church (left) and Taipa Houses–Museum (Right)
Taipa Houses–Museum at the edge of the village, makes an obvious starting point for its picturesque location. This row of jade-green residences lies on Avenida da Praia, a tree-lined esplanade with wrought-iron benches. Built in 1921, they once housed civil servants before the government made them into a museum in 1999. Now, each house has been repurposed to showcase Macau’s history and culture, and encourage international exchange; Carmel Garden, in front, sees regular outdoor performances.
A short stroll down Avenida de Carlos da Maia brings you to the village, Old Taipa – or, to the Chinese population, “Tamzai”. While Cotai’s opulent casinos loom over the skyline, the atmosphere here belongs to another world and another time. Houses covering a spectrum of colour – many with shutters, balconies and terraces – are flanked by narrow alleyways with elegant lamps and ornate paving. Their Art Deco detail is complemented by recurring brick patterns or traditional Portuguese tiles.
In this laid-back ambience you may spot a sleepy senior taking a siesta on a rattan recliner, or a fisherman drying shrimp on the pavement. Portuguese folk dancers twirl amid stalls at a weekend flea market in Bombeiros Square, and fado music wafts from cafés. Ironically for such a peaceful place, this fishing village was also known for manufacturing firecrackers during the 1950s.
Many buildings date back to, or predate, that time. Russet and red hues fill the 160-year-old Pak Tai Temple with a heady glow as incense spirals hang from the roof. The decades-old Kwong Heng Long store produces balichao (dried shrimp-paste) sauce – fermented for three months before bottling, it’s a flavour used in many traditional Macanese dishes. The Museum of Taipa and Coloane History, housed in an old green villa, is devoted to medieval artefacts.
Pak Tai Temple
Visitors wanting to sample local snacks can collect free titbits along Rua do Cunha, the main pedestrian street, named after Portuguese seaman Tristao da Cunha. It’s a prime spot for Macanese staples such as almond cookies, beef jerky and pork chop buns, while tiny cafés sell egg tarts and serradura.
Far from being a parochial showcase of local culture, Korean, Italian, Argentinian and Mexican cuisine are represented too. Inevitably though, the Chinese and Portuguese locales are the must-try food stops. Feel like a tart? Try San Hei Lou’s speciality styles such as buttery filo-pastry egg or bird’s nest egg tarts; or Pui Kei Café’s unlikely fusion fare including deep-fried Chinese-style pork schnitzel.
Pui Kei Café (left)
Aficionados of Portuguese cuisine flock to Antonio (founded 2007), whose Michelin star was just reward for the fresh octopus salad, bacalhau and stuffed Portuguese sausages that distinguish its menu. Portugalia’s home-style menu includes codfish cakes and meat croquettes; and Tapas de Portugal, with its mini-roof terrace, makes a perfect date restaurant.
Antonio Restaurant (Right)
While older businesses continue to thrive, Taipa Village has one eye on the future. Quarter Square – a gallery, showroom and café – is a haven for cutting-edge design; Taipa Village Art Space is one of the city’s more challenging galleries; and Goa Nights, a hip cocktail bar, serves spirited concoctions based on Vasco da Gama’s voyages, infused with ingredients from destinations he discovered.
Goa Nights (Left)
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