By Wendell Brock
About 40 miles west of Hong Kong lies the densely populated autonomous Chinese region of Macau, a former colony of Portugal that today is famous for a gambling industry that dwarfs Las Vegas.
From 1557 until 1999, the Portuguese controlled the East Asian port of Macau, and in that time, Macanese cuisine became a fabulous hodgepodge of Chinese, Portuguese, Indian, Malaysian and African influences.
In 2012, a trio of chefs--Abraham Conlon, Adrienne Lo and Hugh Amano--opened Fat Rice, a Chicago restaurant named for arroz gordo, a paella-like dish that epitomizes the exotic Euro-Asian mishmash that is Macanese cooking.
The chefs contend that authentic Macanese food is on the verge of disappearing. That they have chosen to interpret it for American audiences strikes me as somehow significant.
If you can’t get to Macau, the restaurant looks like a good place to marinate in the stir-fries, soups, noodles and rice dishes, laced with curry and coconut and salt cod, that are the heart and soul of this cuisine. And if you can’t dine at Fat Rice, this vivid volume of recipes--with comic book-inspired illustrations by Sarah Becan and wildly evocative photographs by Dan Goldberg--is your next best bet.
Beginning with recipes for mackerel, ginger and ramp pickles and ending with the instructions for Macau’s Famous Sawdust Pudding (it gets its name from its cookie-crumb topping) and other sweets, “The Adventures of Fat Rice” may not send me running to Atlanta’s ethnic markets in search of hard-to-find ingredients like burdock and candlenuts, but it makes me powerfully and urgently hungry.
Portuguese curry chicken with chouriço and olives; potato croquettes stuffed with minchi (meat hash); baked pork chop rice, rice vermicelli soup with prawns: This is my kind of cooking: bright with flavor, rich and inspired, almost dangerously decadent.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and the winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock) .