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After almost 5 years of living in Singapore, I’ve had no choice but to gather that a typical day on the equator is not complete without the foreseeable afternoon pour. When the torrential storm is over, and the sun gashes through the heavy clouds again, the rainforest praises the skies by producing a heavenly scent, which I would instantly bottle if it was ever possible. The scent is so powerful to my essence, that the simple act of taking a deep breath inhaling the freshly damp soil, is an action that miraculously transports me back to the streets of Brazil. And momentarily, it fulfils a tsunami of home-sickness that takes over my body when least expected. Along the years away from my home country, I’ve mastered other effective ways to minimise the symptoms of longing to be back 17.000 kilometres from where I now live. The use of antidotes such as listening to my teen-years favourite Brazilian bands, or of course, by indulging on my native cuisine, seem to always do their job.
Not long after I set foot on the island-country, I did what I always do when arriving in a new city in order to check out the local scene - I headed to the closest supermarket. To my utter surprise and greatest disappointment, the fruits that reminded me of cozy breakfasts at grandmother’s place, were nothing I could possibly afford. Not even the craving as a cure of homesickness could justify the sky high price-tags facing my shopping trolley. So, not long after my first grocery-shock moment settled down, I discovered that with little farming land available in Singapore, the country imports as much as 90% of its fresh produce. Taxes, as well as obvious logistical charges make a direct impact on consumer’s pockets, hence the high prices.
That brings me to the next subject: — Japanese luxury fruits. I had no idea these existed until moving to Asia, and I’ll tell you what, it’s a whole new world out there! My once horrifying thought of paying as much as USD 10 for an organic papaya completely vanished when compared to what I was about to find out.
I came across high-end Japanese fruits when exploring one of the many local Japanese supermarkets in town. In order to belong to the "VIP club” of fruits, these fresh produces are treated differently to any other. Farmers take years to perfect the flawless items. A process that starts with hand-pollinated orchards in an environment surrounded by the perfect air temperature (in summer the fruits receive air conditioning treatment, and in winter heaters take place), after the first stage farmers ensure each fruit grows on individual branches, and are given protection hats or boxes against the direct sunlight. When ready to be picked, the blemish-less, sweet nectar crops are handled manually, and gently packaged in display cases aesthetically resembling boxes of jewellery.
These expensive treasures are not actually bought by everyday customers, but purchased as a Japanese gift-giving practice applied for special celebrations such as weddings, end of business transactions, hospital visits, graduations, birthdays, etc. During fruit auctions, some of the produce can reach extraordinary high prices, with two cantaloupes being sold on a record for USD 27,000 a few years back. Records have also showed a single strawberry sold for USD 4,400, and a small bunch of ruby red grapes for USD 900!
The surreal Japanese tradition doesn’t always make sense to Westerners, like me, yet I can’t help but admiring and respecting this extraordinary foreign culture.
Perhaps one day I will have the pleasure to experience a bite of Japanese’s VIP fruits, but for now my taste preferences have been adapted base on Singapore’s prices, and not the other way around. And as I finish writing this article, I’ll be devouring one of my childhood favourites - an (almost too ripe) custard apple bought during a sale for US 5.