Monday, July 21, 2008

Alorcha – a haven in a fast changing society

As Macau changes beyond all recognition there are few constants left amid the spiralling gambling revenues. Macau has given up a lot of its charm as Vegas has moved in. Don’t be misled by the 30% rise in GDP figures – this is a two strata society where gleaming casinos make a few very, very rich and leave others poor.
One haven though that I make a beehive to every time I am in the former Portuguese enclave is the simple, traditional surroundings of Alorcha, a small, immaculate restaurant opposite the maritime museum and just round the corner from the Poussada Sao Tiago. Inside there are arched whitewashed walls, tables that seat 50 people max – book in advance +853 313193, as this is a place locals frequent regularly. This place is probably my favourite restaurant in all of China.
The food – a fusion of Portuguese and Macanese – is good, filling, honest fare; the chargrilled chicken washed down with a cheap bottle of Borba red a standout favourite. And then there’s the friendly staff who greet regulars and newcomers with a warmth that increasingly is hard to find in plastic coated, casino driven Macau. If somehow after the massive oven warmed bread roll and your humungous main course you can squeeze a pudding in too then the serradura should finish you off.
Old Macau just exist still, you just have to search harder for it, but it’s worth the snooping around.

Hanoi rewound

Hanoi, glorious Hanoi. A chance to reminisce. A throwback. Or would it have changed beyond all recognition? Flying in for the first time since the mid-1990s there was a part of me that expected me to recount countless tales of “Well, of course it was much nicer back then …” or “Globalisation has ruined this city.” It hadn’t. Far from it. Hanoi still is the place I remember. Wonderful dilapidated French buildings, a colonial whiff among the teeming streets, and the calming influence of the lake. Sure there are more cars now, less conical hats, Coke has replaced Ho Chi Minh as the premier brand, and some modernisation pervades the skyline, but the character of Vietnam’s capital is still so exotic, cultured and colourful. My murmurs of “well in my day …” were muted.