Photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
The British have high tea, the Japanese revel in the Chanoy u tea ceremony but in Macau, it's all about Fat Tea or Cha Gordo. When I first arrived in Macau, I assumed the peninsula would follow the Chinese traditions of tea drinking. But I quickly discovered that like everything else in the culture, Cha Gordo is a fusion of Chinese and Portuguese sensibilities.
As a tea fanatic, my ears perked up when I learned that Sheraton Macao hosts a traditional fat tea at its Feast restaurant every week. Once a common ritual with Macanese families, the practice is slowly being revived so I rushed over to Feast to experience a fat tea firsthand.
Feast chef Miguel Joao de Souza bases the elaborate spread on his childhood memories of enjoying Cha Gordo with neighbors. "Cha Gordo is like high tea, it's a party that we'd have for christenings or weekend celebrations," said the chef. "Before Macau became so cosmopolitan, there weren't many tea houses so people would have tea with sweets and savories in their houses. They would have 12 dishes or more, some families would have it every week, some just for special occasions," he remembered.
Taking in the platters of endless food, it's easy to understand where the term "fat tea" comes from. Unlike British tea, there were no delicate sandwiches or light bites to be found. "Hardy" seemed to be the theme for the ritual. Each dish looked like it could suffice for a filling meal all by itself. I learned that the huge array of food wasn't just an assortment of random dishes. Each had a specific place in the Fat Tea tradition.
According to Miguel, the noodle soup lacassa is always featured in a proper Fat Tea. A signature Macanese dish, the soup is filled with shrimp and egg noodles and is also a typical Christmas Eve dish. Bacalhau or cod and potato fritters, are another Fat Tea mainstay. I recognized the fried balls of goodness from my Brazil travels and was excited to discover that these salty treats are popular in all of the former Portuguese colonies.
One offering that was really unfamiliar was minchi. To make it, tiny, diced pieces of beef and pork are fried with potatoes and three kinds of soy sauce, then topped with a fried egg. As the national dish of Macau, minchi is featured at many meals, not just Fat Tea.
My favorite part of any meal is always dessert, so I was happy to sample just as many sweets as savory dishes. The famous Macau egg tart was an expected part of the mix and its delicate sweetness paired perfectly with a cup of tea.
There was also the densely sweet ladoo, an Indian dessert made from mung beans, Portuguese orange rolls and serradura, another Macanese staple that translates to "sawdust pudding." Although that name doesn't sound very appetizing, it's the finely ground cookies that inspire the name of this creamy, layered dessert. Like the Fat Tea tradition, serradura combines the best of two elements to create standout taste.
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