Author Archives: julietours

Rainbow Cheese Toast

Category : Food

If ever there was a snack designed for its Instagram appeal, it is this Rainbow Grill Cheese Toast. It’s bright and colourful, with four shades of vividly dyed mozzarella and a generous handful of sprinkles, it comes apart with just the right degree of stretchy gooey cheesiness, so what does it matter how it tastes?

Maybe I am being unfair, and there are people out there who like the taste of melted mozzarella on heavily buttered toast. I’m not one of them, but never mind – it made me laugh and it was fun to try it out. Well worth S$5 even if I did barely eat 2 bites. And who knew you could get halal mozzarella cheese?


Baby High Heels

I’m really not sure what I think about these. Are they very silly? Yes. Do I think it is a good idea to train baby girls into thinking they need to dress up in slinky footwear? No. Would I buy some if I had granddaughters?  Hmmm…. I actually might… even at S$12.90 a pair, if only as part of some costume, like baby’s first Halloween.

There’s a bit of a disconnect going on here, starting with the fact that I refused to buy shoes for daughters #1 and #2 until they could walk. Up to that point, I thought they would do far better with their bare feet in touch with whatever they were trying to walk on. These particular items, however, cannot seriously be designed for anything but decoration – the heels are softly padded and fold down immediately, so would seriously hamper the progress of any toddler trying to walk in them.

But they are cute and rather witty, more of a joke than anything slightly sinister. And anyone who has seen how much fun little girls can have playing with grown-up shoes might reasonably consider adding some of these to the dressing-up box.


Edible Helium Balloon

This was a ‘you have got to be kidding me’ moment. But no, there in the market was a stall selling edible voice-changing balloons, in strawberry or blueberry flavour. Obviously, I was unable to resist…

The set up was fascinating – a large canister of helium sat next to a set of food warmers containing the gloop which would become the balloon. Rather like those nitro puffs you get in fancy restaurants, this particular product has to be eaten instantly, on the spot.

The gas gets pumped through a tube held under the surface of the syrup, which obligingly blows itself into a bubble that can be whipped up out of the container and transferred to a stick. There is precious little time to admire this creation, and no chance of carrying it away to enjoy later.

The girl in charge of making these held onto the stick, instructing me to take a bite then suck in all the gas inside. “Now, talk as fast as you can”, she instructed, “and don’t laugh because then it won’t work.” The trouble is, as soon as you hear yourself speaking in that ridiculously squeaky voice, you can’t help laughing, so the effects of the gas last for seconds only.

You can, if you want, eat the shrivelled and sticky remains of the balloon still clinging to the stick, but that isn’t really the point. As experiences go, this was hilarious, and I suspect that with a bit of practise you could make the squeaky voice last a lot longer. At almost S$9 a go, however, that might become expensive.


Face Pack Vending Machine

You know how there are evenings you just NEED a sheet mask after the shops are closed? We’ve all been there, right??

Hmmm… it’s a very appealing idea, though, to imagine being able to dash out at any hour and buy yourself a face pack from a special vending machine.

I saw these Lovely Mart machines in shopping malls in Beijing, and was delighted by them, although never actually got round to trying one out. But this is something I would like to see in other places too, starting with Singapore!


Truffle Bouquet

Chocolate and flowers are top of the list when it comes to choosing a gift, and who wouldn’t want to receive either of those as a surprise?

Better still, how about chocolates that look like a bunch of flowers? I was really charmed by these bouquets of truffles which popped up in my favourite Meguro supermarket. Each chocolate was individually wrapped at the end of a long stick and available in various sizes of ready-made bouquet, or singly – for ¥270 each – for you to make up your own selection.

Flavours included not just the expected ones, but alcoholic versions like rum and raisin, or red wine and pink peppercorn. I’d like to tell you that my husband took the hint here, but we were running late to somewhere else at the point I spotted these, and I was hurried along. Tragically, we never got back to remedy the situation, but it’s an easy concept to copy at home, and I might well be trying it as a gift at the next suitable occasion.


Everlasting Rose

Nothing says “I love you” better than a single, perfect rose. The problem is, they don’t last long (and there are enterprising people out there making a good living by sending bouquets of dead roses to that ex you now hate…). But what if you could present your partner with a real rose that is guaranteed to last for years?

It is all apparently a question of treating the rose using a special technique which replaces the natural sap with glycerine, water and dye. This leaves the petals with a soft texture which looks and feels amazingly natural, and means the rose does not need water or any special attention.

I saw these in Bangkok – they were offering a whole range of lovely pinks and reds as well as this multi-coloured version, which was put together from individual petals. At 1,000 baht a bloom I wasn’t planning to buy one, no matter how beautifully packaged, so was politely discouraged from taking any more photos, mai pen rai…


Buffalo Skin

Category : Food

 

One of the things I love about local produce markets is the amazing variety of things on sale that are completely new to me. In Laos, it was clear that buffalo skin was the front runner in terms of amount and variety on display. Stall after stall had up to a dozen different types, yet I had not seen this on menus or even being eaten from the bag.

It turns out that you need to do a fair amount of preparation before you can reach the point of tasting buffalo skin, which as you might expect is very thick and hard. You can roast it over an open fire until it is charred black, then pound it until it softens and the charred bits have fallen off. You can boil it up in a stew or soup, or you can marinate it with fish sauce and bake it slowly until you have something resembling jerky. You can even deep fry it.

Always game, I bargained for a small bag of pale white strips, but was not prepared for the appalling stench that greeted me as I opened it. There are limits. Not wanting to waste it, I sent samples to daughter #1, whose dog did eat it but promptly threw up. (Daughter #1 already treats my souvenir parcels with suspicion, now I am really in her bad books…)

Whilst part of me is sorry I failed to sample what is clearly a Laotian speciality, it appears I may have had a lucky escape!


War Spoons

This is a story about war and peace…

Between 1964 and 1973, the United States fought to stop the spread of communism across Indochina, a ‘war’ which wreaked devastation yet has largely been forgotten. Except by the people still living with the consequences.

In Laos, recorded statistics show that between 250 and 260 million bombs were dropped over that 9 year period, of which a horrifying 30% did not explode. Many of these were cluster bombs, tennis ball sized and easy to overlook, until you dig one up whilst ploughing, or stumble on one in the undergrowth.

Forty five years later, dedicated teams are still working to clear fields of lethal unexploded ordnance, and a steady stream of famers and children are killed or crippled by bomblets. In the Mines Advisory Group centre in Phonsavan, the chalk board notice of ‘this week’s casualties’ makes devastating reading.

The locals, however, are making the best of things, and a whole new industry has grown up based on recycling the debris. Scrap metal from the salvaged bomb casings is being turned into all manner of useful things, from spoons and chopsticks to souvenir bottle openers, bangles and beads.

There are half a dozen stalls at Luang Prabang night market devoted to these, and whilst the recycled metal is a strange, silvery and fragile material, it is a real feel-good thing to buy  – not just as a cool gift or a fascinating souvenir, but also as something that will help the community.

Even better, if you head up-country to the heart of the devastation, you can not only see the mine clearing in action but also try your hand at making some of these souvenirs yourself.

At Ban Napia, or ‘War Spoon Village’, in the region of the Plain of Jars, hut after hut has an area at the back where a small kiln is constantly in use melting down bits of wartime scrap. In the most low tech way, ladles of shimmering molten metal are poured into wooden moulds – by the time you’ve done the third, the first is ready to remove and you start the process over. A small but very efficient little production line was going on at the one I visited, with the son pouring and unmoulding spoons, the mother filing off the rough edges once the metal had cooled.

It did not take much persuasion for them to give me a chance to try this myself, although it soon became clear that it is way less simple than it appears. I am not going to be invited to make spoons again any time soon, and the one specimen I did finally produce is something I am hanging on to but will probably never dare use in case it collapses and pours soup into my lap.

All the night market stalls have the slogan: Buy Back the Bombs. I certainly did my best!


Wasabi Ginger Ale

I’m not big on fizzy drinks but I do like ginger ale once in a while (preferably in whisky…) and of course I am usually entranced by new things from Japan. So obviously I did not hesitate to sample this fascinating new soda from Singapore’s ramen king, Keisuke.

Wasabi can be an acquired taste, and whilst I do like it I don’t like too much of it on my sushi because I want to be able to taste the full flavour of the fish as well.

But ginger has a similar spicy kick, and I was delighted to discover how very well the 2 flavours go together. The wasabi is almost at the bottom of the ingredients list, so there clearly isn’t very much of it in there, but what it does is somehow enhance the spicy flavour of the ginger without overpowering it. It makes the whole thing richer and tastier than regular ginger ale, and I shall definitely be ordering more.


Bonsai Cookie Tree

One of the things synonymous with Japan is how beautiful the details are, and how exquisitely things are presented. It can be anything from an elaborate tea ceremony sweet that looks like a folded leaf, to the way the shop assistant angles the paper before wrapping up a gift.

In the food hall of Takashimaya department store I was brought to a standstill by this ‘tree’, looking like a bonsai but with ‘leaves’ made up of cookies. And not just any old cookies, but intensely flavoured matcha cookies with white chocolate sandwiched inside.

Better still, instead of just broken pieces to sample, entire cookies were being handed out as an enticement to buy…

Just another of the million reasons why I love Japan so much!


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