Monthly Archives: June 2016

Hokkaido Cheese Tarts

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Singaporeans are nothing if not wildly enthusiastic for every new thing to hit their shores. Sometimes it seems as though a brand new restaurant, a visiting act or a product launch needs only to have the briefest mention in the local press for lines to form and tickets to sell out.

A case in point is the massive popularity of Bake, a Japanese cake shop which started in Hokkaido five years ago using the dairy products for which that northern island is well known. There are now 9 stores in Japan, and others have popped up in Seoul, Bangkok, Hong Kong and – most recently – Singapore.

Except you would be lucky to get anywhere near this tiny outlet, which is tucked among the other food stalls in the basement of ION Orchard. That is, without an early start, tactical planning and a great deal of patience. The queue there every day runs at 2 hours minimum, and is organised with ropes, security staff and helpful notices, in a nearby open space to avoid completely blocking the mall.

Customers are limited to buying 12 tarts at a time, and the kitchen staff are clearly working at full stretch to keep the counter stocked with this single item that is so much in demand. Rumour has it that the tarts are flown in from Japan once a fortnight, then have to be rationed out on a daily basis. So once they’re gone, they’re gone… please come back tomorrow!

I had a look at the queue late one afternoon, wondering if it might have diminished sufficiently to make it worth giving a try. No such luck. But I was delighted later in the week, on a quick trip to Hong Kong, to stumble upon the branch in Causeway Bay.

As I had forgotten all about it, I walked right past before it hit me that I recognised the logo and the tarts. There was no queue… not a single person anywhere near but me, so obviously I had to seize the opportunity!

It was a nice treat, light and fluffy with a hint of lemon, and a good crunch to the twice baked pastry shell. The tarts are apparently made using three types of cream cheese, mild Hakodate, the fuller flavoured Betsukai, plus some salty French cheese to balance out the sweetness.

I ate mine on the spot, but they can apparently be warmed up again quite successfully at home, or even eaten straight from the freezer a bit like ice cream. S$3.50 per tart, which is quite a lot for such a small item, but I was glad to have tried one and may even buy more once the craze has died down.

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Above left – no queue at all in Hong Kong… above right, line disappearing into the distance in Singapore…

Sparkling Mineral Powder

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One of the main selling points of products from Korean firm Innisfree is that they are made from the natural plants and minerals of ‘pure’ Jeju Island.

This facial wash, which you mix together yourself before using, is ‘enriched with sparkling, thermal  mineral water’ from Jeju, with carbonated bubbles that ‘deliver moisture and brighten the skin’.

This all sounded fascinating, and I was keen to try it out. The packet contained 2 smaller sachets of powder, with the instructions to dissolve the first in 1.5 litres of water before stirring in the second. Packet 1 held a fine powder, packet 2 was similar but with a coarser grain. When mixed together, the result was a wild fizz of bubbles, see above right, which erupted again every time I stirred up the water with my hands onto my face.

Fairly entertaining, until it started going up my nose and into my eyes and mouth, at which point it became clear that the main ingredient was bicarbonate of soda. Still, I gave it my best shot, although putting my face underwater as suggested was not a particularly amusing experience and was swiftly curtailed. I was glad to be rinsing it all off with fresh water afterwards, and could not wait to get moisturiser and especially lipsil onto my suddenly super dry skin.

I must say, though, that my skin did seem brighter afterwards, and felt very soft, so – despite the temporary discomfort – this product might actually do what it says. Not bad for S$3.50.

Frixion Pens

Category : Other

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There was a moment several years ago when erasable biros were introduced in the UK, and all the banks issued horrified warnings about the dangers of using them on cheques. They didn’t seem to catch on, because not a lot more was heard about them then.

Fast forward to now, and there’s a whole new take on this innovative idea, with a series of ‘Frixion’ pens from Japanese company Pilot.

These use heat sensitive ink that can be erased using a special tip at the other end of the pen, which heats the paper quickly without damaging it. Putting the erased paper in the freezer will also restore the original colour, which makes this a great discovery for the budding secret agents in your life.

Once just available in standard colours, the Frixion range can now be had in a rainbow variety of biros, felt pens and highlighters, which means you can be really artistic with them as well as simply gloss over your crossword mistakes.

For someone who was plagued by errors at school (where  – horrors! – we had italic penmanship classes) and who soon found that ink erasers of the day did little more than rub a hole into the paper, these pens are a godsend. The only drawback I can see is that if you try to laminate anything created with these inks, you will end up with a beautifully plasticised blank sheet.

24 Carat Brownie

Category : Food

24 carat brownie

This one stopped me in my tracks as I was passing through the Paragon in Singapore. It’s a brownie, but coated with edible gold dust, and it twinkled tantalisingly under the lights of Chalk Farm cake stall. At only S$5 for a generous slice (S$60 for an entire cake if you wanted a special – birthday? – treat) I could not resist. Often, the prettiest cakes are all about the looks and not the taste, but not in this case. The brownie itself was dense, delicious and rich with dark chocolate. No annoying walnut bits to break your teeth on, either. It is only a matter of time before I am back for more…

Titanium Balls

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Necklaces and wristbands containing microballs of pure titanium have been popular among athletes for quite a while – the theory is that something in this precious metal balances out the electrical impulses in your body when you are injured, exhausted or stressed. There is little scientific proof that this works, but sometimes the placebo effect is all that matters.

Titanium is very expensive, however, so buying one of the branded versions is not really a spur of the moment, ‘let’s see if this helps’ sort of thing.

But then I saw these stick on balls in Daiso, the Japanese equivalent to the Pound Store, and thought that I’d give them a try.

According to the packet: ‘If the body’s natural bioelectric current is disturbed, it tends to leave various unpleasant symptoms’ including all sorts of aches, pains and general ill health. The way to use these plasters, each small disc holding a 1.2mm titanium ball in place, is to centre them on the meridian points of the area which is giving you trouble. Small diagrams helpfully point out where these points are, but I suggest you ask a friend to help you position the more inaccessible ones such as those on your shoulder blades.

I stuck all 10 of these on in various places, most specifically on a foot that has still not fully recovered from falling off a dodgy pavement in Manila. The plasters stayed on 3 days, surviving multiple showers and dips in the pool with no signs of becoming unstuck, which was quite a surprise. I did not notice any difference, in fact they are so small and unobtrusive that I forgot I was wearing them until the 3rd day, when they suddenly began to itch. When I removed them, I was left with a series of indented red dots where the titanium balls had been, although happily these disappeared overnight.

If you look carefully at the bottom of the packet you can see a disclaimer which says: ‘This product is not a medical device’. But it didn’t do any harm and – for just S$2 – was interesting to try.

Bus Speedometer

Category : Other

bus speedo

This really tickled me, when I noticed it on the bus in Macau – a real time speedometer telling passengers exactly how fast the driver is going. This is the sort of thing you see on methods of transport where the high speed is a selling point – like on the Shanghai maglev train, or the late lamented Concorde.

Here, the electronic display apparently emits a warning beep if the bus is going too fast (the legal limit is 80kph) with the aim being to reduce accidents and make driving in general safer. I must say that it was extremely difficult taking a picture standing up on a moving bus, which is why the photograph is fairly bad… but if you squint you can see the bus is slowing down to 10kph as it reaches its final stop. It made me wonder how fast Macau’s bus drivers would be travelling if they did not have this as a deterrent, but also what a bus load of irate passengers might actually do if a dangerous driver did not slow down.

Man Utd Noodles

cup noodle

Celebrity advertising is an interesting thing. Do they not make enough money already from their massive careers? More than a couple of decades ago, when we first lived in Japan, you could not turn on the TV without seeing such implausible endorsements as Sean Connery drinking Japanese whiskey, or Arnold Schwarzenegger as the genie in the bottle of one of those caffeine+nicotine shots that keep salarymen awake at their desks.

I suppose footballers have to do what they are told when it comes to promoting the team rather than the individual, which must be why you see superstars lauding obscure national airlines. But Cup Noodles? Looking at the pictures on these packets, this was a deal done several seasons ago, when United signed a sponsorship agreement with Japanese manufacturers Nissin to promote the link between sport, food and health with the tagline ‘Hungry To Win’.

They certainly made me laugh when I spotted them on the shelves of our local supermarket, and some were despatched immediately to daughter #2 in the UK, who is our noodle queen. Her report: “Interesting. A bit strange but not entirely unpleasant. Spicy, but not really anything like actual chilli crab.” Not surprising, I suppose, since crab is expensive and your average pot of dehydrated noodles costs less than S$2.

What I would very much like to know is if – before they signed the deal – the team sat down and sampled these at Old Trafford one day…

Nail Masks

Category : Beauty

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These are an interesting variation on a theme…

I love the hand masks that you can wear like gloves whilst relaxing – say watching TV or with a book. These looked like more specific versions of the same thing, 10 tiny pocket shaped masks to slide over each fingertip to nourish the cuticle and nails.

They do a nice job, too, although there is one slight snag. Whereas the hand masks have the liquid product safely contained inside a plastic outer layer, so you can get on with other things whilst wearing them, the nail mask were just wet fabric, so I had to sit and hold my hands in the air whilst they were on.

The masks are supposed to be worn for 10-15 minutes, then the remaining product massaged into the nails. I did this at night, and my nails were still smooth and shiny 24 hours later, despite a busy day which included swimming, cleaning the floor and washing up. Next time I will have some of those thin plastic disposable gloves standing by, so I can be doing something else whilst wearing them.

Eyelash Jewels

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Here’s another S$2 treat from Daiso – something else you did not know you needed.

This is the sort of thing you see cute teenagers wearing in Harajuku on a Sunday, to complement their frilly dresses and lace. The sparkle of fake jewels on their eyelashes is just one more part of a mind-boggling costume extravaganza.

Having tried to put these on, I have new respect for the time it must take those girls to dress up the way they do. You need fiendishly good eyesight (or a friend with tweezers and a magnifying glass) to get these minute sparklers attached to the even tinier sticky dots provided, then transferred to your lashes.

I struggled for ages, getting jewels stuck everywhere but where I wanted them, and if I’d been wearing eye makeup it would certainly not have survived. When I did get one in place, however, I was surprised to note that whilst I had been expecting it to be a real distraction, I could neither see nor feel it. But I would not like to think how it might hurt if one fell into your eye…

With a spot of assistance and a lot of patience, this might be a nice final touch to a fancy dress costume. Otherwise, best left to the Takeshita dori Lolitas.

Move Inside the Carriage

prosperity spot mrt

I’m sure every mass transit system in the world has this problem – no-one wants to be stuck in the middle of the car in the rush hour jam and potentially miss their stop. So everyone crowds round the doors instead, making it even harder to get on and off the train.

There are always signs imploring you to move down inside the carriage, and often a recorded announcement at every station as well. In Singapore they have launched a set of animated characters who sing and dance as they demonstrate the way to ride the MRT with courtesy and consideration (see above right for ‘MoveInMartin). You can watch them on the television monitors both on the platform and in the train, then marvel at their complete lack of impact on the general population.

This particular idea seemed to work, however, taking advantage of local fascination with anything that might bring good luck. By adding a ‘Prosperity Spot’ in the exact centre of the carriage, the transport authority managed to hit on a perfect way to ease crowding by the doors during the hectic Chinese New Year period.

I was lucky to catch this spot empty near the end of the line, and was greatly amused. It’s a shame they took it away again once the holidays were over.