March 31, 2009
Tour to eat
Gastronomic tours around the region to taste local cuisines have surged in the past year
By cheryl tan
When Mr Nelson Lee went on holiday in Hokkaido earlier this year, he packed more than just a digital camera to snap sights and a handycam to record activities. Just as importantly, he brought along a healthy appetite.
Unlike those who are enticed by the things to see and do on a vacation, the 26-year-old computer engineer was hooked by the mouth-watering line-up of speciality food such as Hokkaido crabs, sashimi and traditional Japanese steamboat. He paid more than $6,000 for himself and his girlfriend to go on CTC Holiday's nine-day tour to the northern-most Japanese island.
'The Japanese food and seafood in Hokkaido is so different from what we have here,' says Mr Lee, who put on nearly 3kg after his trip in February.
Such food-centric holidays have been available for about five years, but tour agents say people have been signing up in droves in the last year.
ASA Holidays has seen a 70 per cent year-on-year increase in the demand for such 'merged itineraries', which include sightseeing and food tasting. Its spokesman Louisa Chin says Singaporeans 'have a great passion for food' and are adventurous enough to 'try new tastes'.
The agency started to include food gourmet segments in its tours nearly three years ago. For example, its nine-day North Eastern China tour takes travellers to feast on locally flavoured and prepared ginseng chicken, roasted duck and seafood buffet.
Chan Brothers' slew of gourmet-themed holidays, including a one-day Peranakan food tour to Malacca and a six-day Taiwan Night Market Explorer tour, has seen a 30 per cent jump in sign-ups annually.
It also conducts tours to Kuala Lumpur and Chiang Mai for travellers to participate in cooking demonstrations.
Such Asian destinations in Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam are popular as these countries' 'cuisines are palatable for Singaporeans' taste buds', says Chan Brothers' spokesman Jane Chang.
CTC Holidays, which started offering food tours five years ago, adds Japan, South Korea and China to the list of Singaporeans' favourite eating hot spots.
Its first gourmet tours had local celebrities, such as comedian and food-lover Moses Lim, leading tour groups to Tohoku and Hokkaido in Japan to sample the local cuisines.
It now incorporates the food components into their normal tour packages, with the agency's local representatives making the recommendations.
Getting a taste of a destination's local cuisine does not come cheap. The food tasted on gourmet tours are usually in popular and more upmarket restaurants well-known for their quality local fare.
CTC representative Alicia Seah notes that those who sign up for food tours are usually 'affluent and well-travelled Singaporeans above 40 years old', since 'the difference in costs for meals on a gourmet tour could amount to more than double the price of a normal tour package'.
She adds: 'They are usually adventurous and like to try different types of food and delicacies which may not be available here. Younger travellers are more into free and easy travelling and sightseeing. They do not want to spend so much on food.'
Given the current depressed economy, she predicts that the new food tours might 'settle for reasonably priced cuisines instead of forking out a substantial sum of money for high-end quality food'.
SA Tours, which has seen a 9 per cent annual increase in its gastronomic packages since it started offering them four years ago, has a different game plan.
Instead of omitting the more expensive food places at a destination, it has made 'provisions to cut back on the number of days to lower the costs of such tours', says its spokesman Ruth Lim.
But recession or not, retiree Fong Mee Fah is determined to go on her annual holiday to enjoy the eats. The 59-year-old has paid more than $800 for a five-day Chan Brothers Guangdong gourmet tour next month.
Madam Fong, who has heard of the region's famed cuisine, hopes to try as many of the local dishes and snacks as possible.
She says: 'My children have all grown up already, so I tour the world now. I live to eat.'
Tantalise your taste buds
Tour: 8D/9D North Eastern China tour
Price: $1,468 (first passenger) and $1,168 (second passenger)
§ Harbin Flying Dragon Feast, which includes dishes served in pickled sauces, baked chicken and red sausages
§ Changchun ginseng chicken
§ Shenyang local flavour roasted duck
§ Dalian seafood buffet steamboat
Tour: 8D All Around Taiwan
Price: From $1,408
§ Xiao long bao at Dian Shui Lou restaurant in Grand Hyatt, Taipei, which is famous for its Shanghainese pork dumplings
§ Taiwanese aboriginal cuisine
§ Three-cup chicken, a classic Taiwanese dish of sesame oil, rice wine and soy sauce
§ Spicy mala hot pot
CHAN BROTHERS TRAVEL
Tour: 1D Trail of the Little Nonya
Price: From $68
§ Peranakan lunch
§ Malacca food such as Baba chendol, Baba seafood laksa and Nonya assam laksa at the Museum Cafe, a popular food outlet in Jonker Street. Also, take part in a Nonya culinary demonstration of ayam pongteh (chicken and potato stew), sambal udang (sambal prawns) and ikan chilli (fish with chilli)
Tour: 5D Unseen Chiang Mai
Price: From $1,044
§ Khantoke dinner, a North Thailand traditional Lanna cuisine style. Try cooking Thai dishes such as spicy curries, tangy salads and sweet treats at the largest cookery school there
Tour: 9D All of Hokkaido
Price: From $2,848
§ Sashimi and sushi
§ Hokkaido crabs
§ Kaiseki, a traditional Japanese dinner which usually includes sashimi and simmered, grilled or steamed dishes
§ Shabu shabu hot pot
Tour: 6D Guangdong New Discovery
Price: From $783
§ Roast goose and pigeon
§ Buddha Jumps Over The Wall
Tour: 8D Korea Discovery and Jeju
Price: From $1,480
§ Samgetang (Ginseng chicken soup with ginseng wine)
§ Korean BBQ
§ Korean seafood steamboat
§ Jeju abalone porridge
§ Special Korean cakes, which used to be eaten only by the Korean royal family
Tour: 11D Shandong and Henan flowers appreciation tour
Price: From $1,379
§ Jinan jiaozi (dumplings)
§ Qingdao beer and seafood
§ Other locally flavoured cuisines from Shandong and Luoyang
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN TOURISM COMMISSION WITH KONSORTIUM TOURS
Tour: 7D Adelaide Autumn Gourmet Trip, from April 17 to 24 (80 places), led by Singapore funny man and food lover Moses Lim
§ Wine and berries. Enjoy a vineyard retreat, participate in winemaking activities, pick strawberries at the farms and cockles by the beach during season