I love Macau. Everyone who knows me knows this. An hour ferry ride away from Hong Kong, I can literally wake up in the morning, go about my day, decide that I want to have lunch in Macau, grab my passport, and in less than two hours, I’m seated in the lovely dining hall of the colonial gem that is Club Militar, glass of red wine in hand, delicious Serra cheese on the table.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in China. Inspired by trade, they set up shop on what is now the peninsula of Macau and began a long and often combative relationship with their landlord. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend A Macau Narrative by Austin Coates. Reads like a real life version of One Hundred Years of Solitude. A comedy of errors really. But what a comedy!

I go to Macau about once every six weeks. Sometimes I go alone, occasionally with friends, always with visiting friends, but mostly I go with my partner. In the beginning, he was happy to go along. Then it became, “We always go to Macau. I want to spend weekends visiting other places in Asia. Why do we always have to Macau?”

I ignored him of course.

Obviously, we spend a few days or longer at other Asian destinations. But we always go back to Macau. Go back for the relative calm of its cobblestone streets, its centuries old churches, its ancient Buddhist temples, its grand colonial buildings, its glitzy casinos, and its secluded beaches. But mostly, we go back for the food.

The Portuguese had to sail around Africa, India and Southeast Asia to make it to Macau. That’s a lot of spice they brought with them. Mix that in with Chinese cuisine and you get one exotic wallop. Macanese cuisine is fusion cuisine, and was so long before “fusion cuisine” was made hip by modern chefs. African chicken, coconut curry crab, clams bathed in garlic and cumin, cod so soft it slides off the fork, slow-roasted pork. And that’s just what I can’t eat.

As a vegetarian, people often think that I miss out on all the fun. Sometimes they’re right. Not in Macau. Just typing the words “Portuguese cheese” makes my stomach growl. Egg tarts, flan, egg custard, samosas, butter rice, steamed veggies in garlic broth and herbs, and this amazing bread that is a bit more doughy than a traditional baguette and even more delicious.

At A Petisqueria, our favorite restaurant in Macau, they even have this rich and oh so spicy red chili sauce you can use to drip on your meals. I drip it on my bread and cheese, snap into a fetal position and melt onto the floor. And don’t let me get started on Macau tomatoes. I know what you’re thinking, but trust me. Especially at Fernando’s in Coloane near the beach, the tomatoes are amazing.

If you’re a lush like me, you’ll enjoy “learning” about and “discovering” all the wonders of Portuguese wine. The ports too. In fact, there is a wine museum–one of the many museums in Macau. We went there last weekend. A drunken Filipino poured my tasting selection. He asked me where I was from. And when I said I was American but that I lived in Hong Kong, he said, “No, like you know: Chinese, Indian, Portuguese…”

And that’s one of the things I also like about Macau, there is a lot of blending in its people. Sure, it’s mostly Chinese. And there is a small, active and very proud Portuguese community. But there are many Eurasians. How could there not be after over 400 years of Portuguese rule? As a Mexican with Spanish, indigenous (Aztec/Mayan) and German blood, I look like I could be from a number of different places. I get some mix of Chinese, Italian, Filipino, Middle-Eastern all the time. You should see how much fun I have at airports back in the US! In Macau, I fit right in.

Then, there is the main reason people visit Macau. Gambling. I’m not a big gambler but I do like to play roulette now and then. My partner prefers blackjack. We cap off most nights in the city with a visit to one of the many casinos, The Wynn being our favorite. I usually watch my partner gamble while I keep the vodka coming. Chinese gamblers don’t like to drink alcohol when they play, only coffee or tea. So you have to flag down a waitress to special order a drink.

Lastly, there are the hotels and resorts. Most big name casinos operate their own hotels, but there are a number of hotels, both big and small, that are not in the gaming business. We tend to stay at those establishments. As I said, I’m not a big gambler, so it’s not important for me to have a casino downstairs (nearby, but not downstairs). I prefer a morning at the gym and a noon spa treatment followed by an afternoon margarita by the pool. Lately, we’ve been staying at both the newish Mandarin Oriental and its sister property, the old Mandarin Oriental, now called The Grand Lapa. Neither one runs a casino, but there is one a short walk away. The MGM and The Wynn for the Mandarin Oriental, The Sands for the Grand Lapa.

I’m always a bit sad when I step on to the ferry that will take me back to Hong Kong. Don’t get me wrong, I like Hong Kong. I just love Macau.

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