In pursuit of happiness on the streets of old Macau

20 09 2012

Much of the second day of our trip to Macau seemed to be spent in the pursuit of happiness. Happiness, not as one might imagine, found in the brightly lit gaming rooms that one can’t really get far away from in the territory, but rather found in and around the narrow streets and back lanes of old Macau, streets and back lanes that given more time, are ones that I certainly would want find myself getting lost in.

A dance of joy at the foot of the steps leading up to the iconic ruins of St. Paul’s, one of the many pockets of happiness that awaited us on the second day (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Scrambling around the streets late on what was a muggy Sunday morning, it didn’t take long to find ourselves dripping in perspiration and it did seem for a while, that that was the last thing that would lead us to any form of happiness. We had found ourselves involved in a Mini Macau Amazing Race, split into five teams of two, wandering around seemingly aimlessly seeking answers which were to be found in the narrow streets in and around Senado Square.

Have GPS will race … not that it helped … as my team was the last to arrive (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

We did in the course of the race, stumble upon happiness. We found that in the name of a street – Rua da Felicidade or 福隆新街,which translates to the Street of Happiness. The name has its origins in a seedy past, one that was associated with the pleasures of the flesh. The street is today (along with the narrow streets around it), where pleasures are still to be found, in indulgences that some would say are no less sinful. This we had to leave for a little later with the little matter of having first to finish the race.

The pursuit of happiness brought us to a street called ‘happiness’, the Rua da Felicidade / 福隆新街 (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Being paired with a very able partner in Kaika, of The Cosplay Chronicles fame, somehow wasn’t enough. Arriving drenched in the morning’s exertions at the pit stop, we were to hear the dreaded ‘you are the last team to arrive’. Looking back, we had perhaps spent a little too much time on happiness, in search of what one might call a purveyor of happiness that eluded us. We did find some momentary happiness at the end point though. That came in the form of what has to be one of the simple pleasures of Macau – a Portuguese Egg Tart or Pastel de Nata as some refer to it. The Macau favourite was one that came from Margaret’s Café (玛嘉烈蛋挞), tucked away in what seemed like an obscure alley not far from the Grand Lisboa Hotel, which served as the end point.

A jump of joy in front of St. Dominic’s Church, one of the stops along the race route … I was paired up with Kaika of The Cosplay Chronicles for the race (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Happiness at the pit stop – found after having an egg tart (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Margaret’s Café (玛嘉烈蛋挞) is tucked away in what seemed like an obscure alley not far from the Grand Lisboa Hotel (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The scene that greeted us at Margaret’s Café, might have had fuelled some delusions some of us might have had that the large crowd that was present was there to cheer our efforts. It was however clear that they had come for the rich creamy custard filled flaky pastry cases that can only be described as a little piece of heaven. There was just a queue that was in evidence, with tables laid on the outside all filled up, many were seen, egg tarts in hand, standing around in the alleyway. The café had been one of the many pockets of happiness surprising us in the labyrinth of streets of the race route and looking back at it, the race certainly was an well thought of means devised by the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) to help get us acquainted the streets in and around Senado Square and what they have to offer.

There was a large crowd at the café when we arrived (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Those who could not find seats did not seem to mind having their egg tarts standing (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

With the newly acquired local knowledge fresh in our heads, a number of us decided to use the free time we had after the race to embark on a quest to seek out the pockets of happiness we now knew the streets had to offer. Retracing our steps back to the street called happiness, we sought out Cheong Kei Noodle House (Loja Sopa Da Fita Cheong Kei or 祥记面食专家) and the famed shrimp roe noodles we were made aware of. Undeterred by the queue that had formed when we arrived, we patiently waited for the reward that awaited us, shrimp roe noodles of which we each had one (we realised that the portions served were small enough), sharing a bowl of wan ton soup, and what seemed like house specialities fish skin salad and fish balls deep fried with a coating of rice that resembled balls of Fererro Rocher. The shrimp roe noodles, noodles sprinkled with dried shrimp roe on top, made an interesting eat and turned out to be quite a happy treat. The fish balls and wan ton were too, but I think the jury was out on the fish skin which if anything was rich, as I learned from the ladies with us, in collagen.

The queue to get into Cheong Kei did not deter us (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Fish Skin Salad, a specialty – the jury seemed to be out on this (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Fererro Rocher balls? Deep fried fish balls coated with rice (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

What we came for, happiness in a serving of shrimp roe noodles (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

… which Ai Sakura seemed to find (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Feeling happy from the exercise of gluttony at Cheong Kei, there was more happiness to be sought. We decided to find it in some sweet delights that Macau does have an abundance of – desserts! We headed to the Leitaria I Son (義順牛奶公司) along San Ma Lo (新馬路 / Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro), known to many who visit Hong Kong as the Yee Shun Milk Company. The dessert shop, which I understand originated in Macau, offers a range of smooth and creamy steamed milk puddings with a variety of toppings, all of which would probably require several trips to Macau to have a complete taste of. We shared a few different bowls – a plain milk pudding, as well as one each with ginger, lotus seeds and red beans. The ginger was quite an interesting experience, and if you are fond of having a cup of strong ginger tea we find at the sarabat stalls in Singapore, it is something you certainly will like – which I did. Seeing the expression on the face of one in the group, Rui Long, the representative, as she had a taste of it also told me that ginger wasn’t everyone’s bowl of milk pudding. I did however find, and I think many would agree with me, that the bowl with the red beans topping came closest to happiness in a bowl – red beans seemed to best complement the joy of milk pudding.

The search for more happiness took us into Leitaria I Son (義順牛奶公司) along San Ma Lo (新馬路 / Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro), known to many who visit Hong Kong as the Yee Shun Milk Company and famous for their steamed milk puddings.

Happiness found in bowls of steamed milk pudding at I Son … just so good! (Photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

It was at this point that some decided to head to the shops in Senado Square in search of the happiness that shopping does bring. A few headed back to the starting point of the morning’s race, Ponte 16, to visit the MJ Gallery and MJ Café there. The gallery, the only one in Asia devoted to the late ‘King of Pop’, Michael Jackson (MJ), is where MJ fans will take great delight in the 40 well-known pieces of MJ memorabilia on display. This includes the iconic white rhinestone glove which he wore worn during his first moonwalk performance which was televised during Motown’s 25th Anniversary in 1983, and also a fedora hat and crystal socks worn during his Victory Tour in 1984. MJ was certainly a big part of the generation I am in and I was quite happy to see that he has fans in the young bloggers who came along. One big fan we were to discover amongst us was Rui Long, who I must say did an excellent impression of MJ next to a life-sized standee of MJ doing the legendary moonwalk.

Some headed back to Ponte 16 to visit the MJ Gallery.

Paying homage to the late ‘King of Pop’, Michael Jackson at the MJ Gallery at Ponte 16 (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The MJ Café at Ponte 16.

The time tunnel at the MJ Gallery captures the key milestones of MJ’s legendary career (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Rui Long during a perfect impression of MJ.

The MJ Gallery features 40 items of MJ memorabilia including some iconic items such as the white rhinestone studded glove he wore during his legendary moonwalk performance televised during Motown’s 25th Anniversary in 1983 (photographs taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

I decided next to head on my own in an attempt to discover the heart of old Macau, starting with the A-Ma Temple (媽閣廟) which is thought to be at the origins of the Portuguese given name of its former colony. The temple, I will write on in part of another post, which dedicated to the Taoist protector of fishermen, the goddess of the sea, Mazu or Matsu (妈祖 / 媽祖), serves as the starting point of any heritage trail through the streets of old Macau. It is also a stone’s throw from Lilau Square, the heart of the first Portuguese settlement. It was at the square where peeking through a window of a convenience kiosk, I spotted Yiwei, of Foodeology fame, seemingly in a state of happiness peeking (quite coincidentally) through a window at the opposite side of the kiosk.

The A-Ma Temple (媽閣廟) is at the origin of the Portuguese given name for Macau.

Having spent a little more time that I thought at the A-Ma Temple, the Moorish Barracks along the way and at Lilau Square, and perhaps a little distracted by the sweet smile at the other end of the kiosk, I abandoned thoughts of continuing with my trek through old Macau. I decided on heading back to Senado Square where I would find the larger part of the group, with the promise of a raid on more places of culinary happiness later that evening.

The joy that accompanied the surprise through a window of a kiosk at Lilau Square.

I found the group close to the steps leading up to the ruins of St. Paul’s, looking for happiness in the many shops selling Macanese / Cantonese confectionery and biscuits found in the streets leading up to the ruins. It is at these shops that Macau favourites such as boxes of almond cookies fly off the racks like hot cakes, and where another favourite, what I is best described as sweet barbequed meat or 肉乾, referred to locally as jerky (or in Singapore as ‘bak kwa’ or ‘long yuk’), is displayed in folded sheets as large as a piece of A4 sized paper– something I would certainly would have found happiness in as a child!

The streets below the ruins of St. Paul’s are littered with shops offering happiness in the many local snacks and confectioneries.

Sweet BBQ Meat a.k.a. jerky or 肉乾 is displayed in A4 sized sheets.

A shop assistant with a flat basket of a local favourite, almond cookies.

Ai Sakura finding happiness in a confectionery shop.

Tired from what was a long day out, it was then time to seek the dose of happiness at one of Macau’s food institutions – one we found out about during the race, Wong Chi Kei Noodle House (黃枝記麵家) in Senado Square. Wong Chi Kei has been in business some for some 66 years, having started in 1946. Set in an old shophouse in Senado Square, the wait to get into the restaurant, popular with locals and visitors, proved to be well worth it. The noodles and the soup in which they were served can be described as nothing less than a bowl of great happiness! As with any visit to the region, I had to have a bowl of beef brisket noodles. I thoroughly enjoyed and would if I could, return for more. The wan ton noodles and crab congee are apparently among the favourites here, as is the shrimp roe noodles, which served in larger portions with a generous helping of wan ton, was received well by those who did try it.

A happy customer leaving Wong Chi Kei Noodle House (黃枝記麵家) in Senado Square, a local institution.

The verdict was that the shrimp roe noodles at Wong Chi Kei brought happiness to those who tried it.

Leo of Spin or Bin Music must be wondering how Ai Sakura is going to eat all that!

Another house specialty is the crab congee.

Before we were prepared to call it a day, there was still one last bit of happiness we had to seek. We headed back to the dessert shop that had eluded Kaika and me during the race, Hang Heong Un (Loja De Doces Hang Heong Un / 杏香园雪糕甜品屋), in which their walnut cream desserts are said to bring pure joy. I decided on ordering something that would cool me down instead, it having been a hot day – a cold water chestnut based dessert. That did bring pure joy to me, certainly an excellent way to bring what I must say was a very successful pursuit of happiness through the streets of Macau to a very happy conclusion.

Last stop for finding happiness was Hang Heong Un (Loja De Doces Hang Heong Un / 杏香园雪糕甜品屋) off the street of happiness.

A refreshing bowl of water chestnut based dessert – a perfect way to end a happy day.

The visit to Macau was made possible by the kind sponsorship of MGTO, flights were sponsored by Tiger Airways with check-in baggage allowances included.

Links to Happiness:

Getting there
Macau Government Tourist Office
Tiger Airways

Pockets of ‘yum’:
Margaret’s Café
Cheong Kei Noodle House
Leitaria I Son
Wong Chi Kei
Hang Heong Un

Happy places:
Suggested Walking Tour of Macau
Rua da Felicadade
Senado Square
Ruins of St. Paul’s
St. Dominic’s Church
A-Ma Temple
Lilau Square
MJ Gallery at Ponte 16

Note: this is a repost of my post on the My Macau Experience 2012 site which sees 10 bloggers share experiences of their visit to Macau. Readers will get a chance to vote for their favourite My Macau Experience 2012 blogger and stand a chance to win $1000 worth of Macau travel vouchers. Voting starts on 28 September 2012 and details can be found at the My Macau Experience 2012 Voting page.

Video of Mini Macau Amazing Race as captured by the crew of