Restaurant Editor Bill Addison is traveling to chronicle what's happening in North America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in North America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
The catchword for the food cooked at Fat Rice in Chicago's Logan Square is Macanese—the singular, worldly cuisine of Macau that emerged during Portugal's 400-year occupation of the region. (Its reign ended in 1999, when rule reverted to China.) Over the centuries, cooks mingled local ingredients and flavors with Portuguese staples, producing dishes like caldo verde simmered with bok choy rather than kale, or the curried pork or beef hash with potatoes called minchi, often finished with an egg on top. Fat Rice co-owners Adrienne Lo and Abraham Conlon, who previously ran a Chicago supper club called X-Marx, spent a week in Macau in 2011, learning about its vanishing traditions and spending time with elder cooks who shared recipes. Lo's family comes from China, Conlon has roots in Portugal; Macau became their culinary totem when they opened their restaurant in November 2012.
But a descriptor like "Macanese" doesn't quite capture the menu's wayfaring scope. I peppered my server with questions about the South Indian curry leaves in a shrimp and okra sauté, the Goan mustard seed masala spiking pickled radish sprouts, the "gallina Africana" (piri piri chicken in tomato-peanut sauce), and the appearance of a spicy Malaysian sambal as part of a seafood escabeche. She nodded and said, "Yes, 'post-colonial Portuguese cuisine' is a better term for our food."