Asia's richest prepare to bid hundreds of thousands for truffles

Business Materials 9 November 2008 06:42 (UTC +04:00)

Some of Asia's wealthiest people were Sunday preparing to shrug off the slump by spending hundreds of thousands of US dollars on a small, pungent, edible fungus, dpa reported.

The super-rich, including nine Hong Kong tycoons, were gathering in Tokyo to take part in the 10th Annual World Alba White Truffle Auction.

The Hong Kong bidders have a rich history in the annual charity auction and are favorite to win Sunday night's auction for the delicacy which is nicknamed "white gold" because of its rarity and high price.

Last year, the winning bid at the Alba Truffle Auction came from a consortium of property developers from Hong Kong who paid bid 208,000 US dollars for a comparatively small 750 gram truffle.

This follows 160,000 US dollars paid by billionaire Gordon Wu in 2006 for a fungus weighing around 1.5kg and the 112,000 US dollars for a 1.2 kg truffle paid by a group of Hong Kong investment bankers in 2005.

In previous years, the auction has been held at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong but has been moved temporarily to The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo after the hotel's closure earlier this year.

Mark Lettenbichler, Area General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, said the auction which will feature five smaller white truffles as well as the "Queen Tartufo" star fungus.

"We are looking forward to an exciting event. People have flown in from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei but majority of the guests are from Tokyo," said Mr Lettenbichler.

"I think the pressure is on Tokyo to make the winning bid. They know Hong Kong has outbid everyone for the truffle for the past three years.

"This year will be unique, we really don't know how the bids will go because it goes hand-in-hand with the economy.

"The economy was buoyant over the last few years and we saw some very aggressive bidding but we will see what happens. I still think it will be large amount for the large truffle but we will have to see.

"Whether it will beat the record of last year, no one really knows because of the economy. But if someone wants that truffle bad enough they will do whatever it takes."

Lettenbichler said the size of the truffle was still unknown as the hunt for the "queen" went on until the day before. "Last year was a tough season for them but this year has been a good season and we are hoping for a good size," he said.

As in previous years, Ritz-Carlton Italian chef Umberto Bombana will be charged with preparing a feast with the truffle for the winning bidder and guest.

White truffles are one of the world's rarest and most costly delicacies, and grow naturally underground with tree roots in Italy. Proceeds from Sunday's auction will go to a Tokyo-based charity.