Frequent flyer smiles for foodies
THERE are two kinds of rabid food-souvenir shoppers in Singapore: those who raid Haneda's duty-free shops for strawberry cheesecake Kit Kat and limited edition Jagabee potato sticks - and those who do not.
Peek into the latter's luggage and you might find new harvest rice nestled among socks, freshly shaved bonito flakes from a wholesaler in Tsukiji or even a slab of preservative-free corned beef made from Omi wagyu squashed beside a toiletries case.
If the world is your oyster, these people will have a dozen of them carefully cushioned in netting and sleeping in the airplane's chiller until touchdown at Changi.
Savvy food lovers know better than to pay a formidable premium for exotic imported ingredients, especially when frequent travel and an empty suitcase means you can cart home food that is cheaper, fresher and of better quality.
You certainly won't catch Grace Yip jostling for Kit Kat or Tokyo Banana at Haneda.
"That's too touristy," said the chief operating officer of group human resources at a local bank.
Her gourmet haul?
A 3kg slab of A3 wagyu strip loin and seasonal fruit such as peaches, tomatoes and strawberries from Tokyo.
Tsukiji market is her go-to grocer. While it's famed for tuna auctions and cheap sushi, the handful of butcher shops there are worth a second look.
"I went to Tsukiji on the last morning of my stay, bought the beef and headed back to my serviced apartment to pack," she said.
She opts for a serviced apartment over a hotel as it usually has a refrigerator, where food can be kept chilled till it's time to head to the airport.
If not, most hotels will keep bulky items in their chillers for you even beyond checkout time, especially if yours is a late night flight.
Most butcher shops will pack your meat in ice in a styrofoam box for travel. If not, Ms Yip has the wagyu wrapped in newspaper, sandwiches it between two freezer blocks, cling wraps it, wraps it in newspaper and another layer of cling wrap, before securing it in a plastic container.
"For fruit, buy the whole box rather than loose pieces," she added, because they've already been packed to withstand transportation.
Everything goes into her suitcase, which is checked in.
"They stay chilled in the cargo hold area," she said.
Japan is not her only food stop.
In Barcelona, she stocks up on salami and jamon iberico.
She gets the butcher to slice and vacuum-pack the meats into smaller portions.
"Each packet is about 100g, and I end up with 20 flat packs, which make it easy to fit into the suitcase," she explained.
With all the frequent travelling she does as managing director of The Hour Glass, Wong Mei Ling knows exactly what and where to buy.
In Geneva, she gets vanilla pods, white truffle oil and dried porcini mushrooms, even if they are not indigenous.
"They are generally cheaper and fresher, and since I'm already in Europe, why not?"
She is a fan of French artisanal butter Le Beurre Bordier from Brittany, which she buys in Provence, along with aged balsamic vinegar and Merlot sea salt. In Beijing, her picks are Szechuan pepper oil and Huang Fei Hong spicy peanuts.
"I buy them because I can't find them in Singapore or it's something I've tasted and like," said Ms Wong.
Marketing consultant Mika Tomiyama has been food-shopping overseas for the past 20 years, a habit she picked up from parents.
"It's the best way to see how people in different countries live," said the Singapore-based Norwegian-Japanese.
Her shopping list includes olive oil, cheese and bacalao from Norway, where her parents reside.
Bacalao, or dried salted cod, cannot be found in Singapore.
"It's easy to bring back because it's dried and it keeps for a long time."
She soaks it in water for cooking in stews.
For wine distributor Emil Teo, kippers from London are his vice. "They're not the highest form of gastronomy but I love them because they bring back memories of our family trips to Malacca when I was younger," he said.
Saucisson (thick, dry cured pork sausage) from France is another favourite buy.
Although he throws dinner parties with his spoils, he is not in the habit of shopping for friends.
"I'm not a tompang (Malay for free ride) service," he quipped.
THE BUSINESS TIMES
What our foodies buy
Mouriya Restaurant in Tokyo
: Akomeya Tokyo
Soya sauce, vinegar, dashi:
Meidi-ya, Hiroo Plaza, Tokyo
Hokkaido milk bread:
Piedmontese beef bone in ribeye:
Fairwaypacking.com, Detroit USDA prime beef: Lobel's, New York
Seasonal fruit and vegetables:
Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market,
Olive oil and bone-in rib steak:
Dry aged ribeye:
The Butcher's Club, Wan Chai
Chinese waxed sausage:
Yung Kee, Central
Soon Hing Hung, Sheung Wan