My earliest memory of dim sum was the weekly Sunday breakfast with my grandfather, a true-blue dim sum aficionado who made it a ritual, almost, to have yum cha sessions with his family on weekends (on weekdays, he did it with his friends). In those early days, we didn’t use the term “dim sum” to refer to this spread of steamed morsels - instead, we’d say “gow chee siu mai”, an unconscious reference to the two favourite items on a dim sum spread for many folks: “gow chee” = “har gow” the shrimp dumpling, and “siu mai” the pork-shrimp-filled, open-topped dumpling with orangey crab/shrimp roe topping.
Although the origins of steamed dumplings originated in Northern China, perhaps brought in by the marauding Central Asian hordes over two millenia during their many forays before, during and after the Great Wall was built (so much for “building a big wall to keep out illegal immigrants”), it was the Cantonese who elevated dim sum to an art form - the delicately-formed and moulded dumplings we know today bore no resemblance whatsoever to their Uighur, Kazakh or Uzbek cousins where they originate from. Along the way, new forms of dim sum were continuously introduced to add to the repertoire which we are familiar with today.
Well, we were in Macau, where a good 95% of the populace is Cantonese, so a dim sum breakfast is a must. Windsor Arch Seafood Restaurant (名門居海鮮食府), where we had our first dim sum meal for this trip, is located at the intersection of Rua de Henrique de Macedo and Calçada do Gaio, overlooking Jardim Vasco da Gama. The restaurant actually serves seafood during lunch and dinner but, in the early mornings, its kitchen will be given over to producing dim sum, perhaps the Cantonese’ favourite breakfast of all time. What do I like about Windsor Arch? It feels like a neighbourhood eatery: diners are all locals having their daily (dim sum) breakfast before they went about with their daily lives, or start their day’s work.
Everyone in there was local Macanese, so we stood out with our Singapore-accented Cantonese, but the staff were very friendly and service was supremely efficient. Our dim sum spread:
Har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) - the favourite dim sum morsel of many people. The creation of har gow was attributed to a teahouse owner in Guangzhou (Canton) at the beginning of the 19th-century who decided to make the fresh shrimps (brought in by the fishermen in his neighbourhood) the centrepiece of his dumplings, adding small amounts of pork, lard and finely-chopped fresh bamboo shoots, and wrapping the mixture in a delicate glutinous rice flour dough. A good har gow is a beauty - delicate, with even folds of almost translucent skin enveloping fresh, crunchy sweet shrimps. The version here at Windsor Arch ticked all the boxes:
Siu mai (steamed minced pork-shrimp dumplings) - one of the earliest dim sum items, the earliest record of siu mai dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE). The present-day version is, again, attributed to Cantonese teahouses which flourished in the 19th-century. The version here was juicy and its steaming was timed perfectly.
Lor mai gai (steamed glutinous rice and chicken in lotus leaf wrapping) - excellent flavours from the marinade for its chicken filling. Again, very well-executed.
Cha siu bao (steamed BBQ pork buns) - Fluffy buns with moist BBQ pork filling. It’s pretty decent, although it did not measure up to the high standards set by the other items we’d tasted earlier.
Fung chao (steamed chicken feet) - this was okay, Macanese-standard spicing, which is less assertive compared to the sharper flavours we get in Singapore or Malaysia for the same dish.
Pei tan choke (century egg and pork congee) - again, rather muted flavours here. But the texture was smooth, as we’d expect.
Located in the old part of “Cantonese” Macau, one can walk around and explore the narrow back-lanes filled with little market stalls and food kiosks afterwards.
BTW, the large square across the street from the restaurant, Jardim Vasco da Gama, was built to honour Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, the first European to reach India back in 1497.
In culinary terms, it was an Earth-shaking moment, as Vasco da Gama’s discovery opened the sea routes for the European powers to come to the Spice Islands. Also, the Portuguese brought along their discoveries from America: chilis, potato, corn, and introduced them to India, Thailand (Siam) and Korea by the 16th-century. Imagine Indian, Thai or Korean food without chilis today, if it’d not been for the Portuguese.
Windsor Arch Seafood Restaurant
Rua de Henrique de Macedo, No 1, 1A, 1B, R/C, Macau
Tel: +853 28354121
Opening times: 8.30am-2.30pm, 5.30pm-10pm daily