Toasted bread with crab stuffing. Photo credit: Ksenia Kuzmina
The proximity to well-trodden tourist routes has tempted many restaurants to alter their menus to accommodate the requests of tourists. But some business owners cherish traditions more than others. Located mere minutes away from Macau’s most famous landmark, the Ruins of St. Paul’s, Mariazinha stands its ground. Its owners are convinced that the reason for their success is their menu of authentic Portuguese food. We came to taste some of their dishes and see why Portuguese locals recommend Mariazinha as one of the best Portuguese restaurants in Macau!
Mariazinha is a family-owned and family-run restaurant. The interior is cozy and casual, Nelson, the owner of Mariazinha, is almost always present at the restaurant. His father is one of the chefs in the kitchen. Even the name is connected to family history. As Nelson shared with us, Mariazinha is what his uncle called his mother when they were kids. That means “little Maria,” and she wasn’t happy about this nickname. But then, it became a funny family joke and turned into the name of the family restaurant.
The menu here is extensive, but not too long. However, if you are lost and not sure where to start from, ask your waiter or even Nelson. He would be happy to give some recommendations, talk about Mariazinha’s specials and help you choose one of the bottles of Portuguese wine they have instore. When Mariazinha’s owners were putting together their wine list, they wanted to find the middle ground between a lengthy wine list that some high-end restaurants boast of and a limited one that family-style eateries have. So they decided to include only Portuguese bottles which ensure both a reasonable price and a variety.
We started our meal with a couple of seafood appetizers. Crab stuffing (featured image above) with toasted bread is a perfect dish to share with friends. Made with crab meat, mayonnaise, home-made cornbread, and the right amount of seasoning, it is a typical snack in seaside areas of Portugal. That includes Matosinhos, a town near Porto where Nelson’s family comes from.
Nelson also recommended us sautéed shrimps in olive oil, garlic, and spicy sauce. Typical in many South European countries, this starter is a simple one that requires flawlessly fresh shrimps, high-quality Portuguese olive oil, and the right timing not to burn the garlic or overcook the shrimps. When done right, shrimps are soft and juicy, and the sauce is fragrant and a bit spicy. No doubt, Mariazinha’s chefs know what they are doing!
Can you judge a Portuguese restaurant without checking out at least one of the bacalhau dishes? A well-known and one of Portugal’s most cherished fish, bacalhau, or salted codfish is a staple of Portuguese cuisine. The list of ways to cook it and recipes is nearly endless. Naturally, Mariazinha has more than one to offer. We decided to order the grilled salted codfish with a mix of shredded bread and ham, cauliflower and baked potatoes on the side. The combination of cornbread and minced ham tops a large piece of bacalhau, which helps to keep the fish moist and tender. Baby potatoes baked with the skin on are incredibly soft and perfectly seasoned. Frankly, we could not get enough of them!
After the bacalhau came a large plate with of sliced veal with olive oil, garlic, black pepper, and potatoes baked with its skin on. There are plenty of reasons to love this dish and we’d come back to eat it time after time. First and foremost, the culinary team at Mariazinha has mastered the art of choosing an excellent piece of juicy fresh veal and respecting it by cooking it to medium perfection. Then, there’s the sauce. To make it extra punchy, chefs mix top-quality olive oil with crushed black paper in advance. The veal comes with a generous portion of mixed sauteed vegetables and those fantastic baked potatoes.
If you wish to dive deeper into Portuguese gastronomy, ask your waiter about alheira. Especially famous in Mirandela, a city in northeastern Portugal, this sausage appeared in culinary books as a consequence of a sad part of Portuguese history. Long story short, discriminated Jews of Portugal had to prove they were converting to Christianity. To be convincing, they started cooking sausages that traditionally consisted of pork at the time, the meat that Orthodox Jews would never use. While everyone thought their sausages were indeed made of pork, Portuguese Jews used anything but that.
Mariazinha’s alheira is made with duck and rabbit. To make sure it is not too oily, they roast in the oven, lifting the sausage with toothpicks, so most of the grease is left behind. This way, it’s much healthier, yet remains juicy on the inside.
With such a feast behind us, there was still some space and desire left for a dessert. Mariazinha makes the desserts in-house, so there was no way we could go without trying at least one. After a few minutes of struggling to make a choice, we chose a chocolate sponge cake. Crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside, true chocolate aficionados would love it! If you want the whole cake, you can order it at Mariazinha in advance.