Author Archives: julietours

Bamboo Straws

In these days of environmental awareness and sustainable living, there are all kinds of easy and interesting ways that anyone can make a difference.

Take these straws, handcrafted from bamboo by Vietnamese and Cambodian villagers – they not only offer a way to stop the ocean filling up with the discarded plastic version, but buying them gives new economic opportunities to women in rural backwaters. It’s a win-win situation.

Bamboo grows ridiculously quickly, so this is a source of raw material that will not run out any time soon. It is also fully biodegradable and compostable when you can’t use the straw any longer, so it will help something new to grow.

I can see that keeping the straws clean might be a problem, but the instructions are to wash with warm soapy water and leave to dry, and I expect it will be obvious when they have reached the end of their useful life.

The idea is great, and at about $1 a straw they are perfectly affordable. They do feel slightly strange in use, though, perhaps because after all this time sipping through the thin and delicate plastic version, they seem bulky and over-long. I feel sure, however, that in the interests of saving the planet this is something you can quickly get used to.


Ginseng Skin Tonic

Just a few kilometres away from the DMZ is the North Korean town of Kaesong, which is famous not only for being the sole place that switched from South to North Korea after the armistice was signed, but also for its ginseng. Something about the soil and the water supply there means that it produces a high quality crop which is much sought after.

You can buy this special ginseng and the various products made from it in other places, notably Pyongyang, but Kaesong itself is the best place to go shopping.

Face packs, candy and natural roots aside, the item which particularly caught my eye was this skin tonic, mostly because it comes with an actual ginseng root suspended in the bottle. (Spoiler alert for family members: I brought several of these home to stash away as quirky Christmas presents…)

The Koreans call ginseng the ‘elixir of life’ and make many claims as to its properties if you eat it. I can’t say I agree with any of them, as eating ginseng tends to make my nose bleed, but this skin tonic was irresistible.

Not only does it claim to maintain the moisture balance of your skin, keeping it smooth and elastic, it also apparently improves the colour and prevents your skin from aging. The product is unisex, and the instructions say to massage it into your skin with your fingers after washing or shaving.

I actually found it quite drying, although it would probably work very well for oily skin. The jury is still out on the anti-aging, so one can but hope.

At the moment, the only way of getting more seems to be to go back to North Korea. Unless of course there is a breakthrough at the summit in Singapore next week….


Puppy Dog Ice Creams

We’ve just begun the Lunar Year of the Dog, so canine-themed gifts and treats are a very popular buy in Asia right now.

My favourite so far is this amazingly detailed ice cream puppy on a stick, a snip at S$3 from the I-Bing pop up at April’s Bakery. To be honest, the face and fur are so realistic that it is slightly disconcerting to eat – a classic ‘man bites dog’ moment (a story which all former trainee journalists will recognise…)

There are three flavours: the golden retriever is earl grey tea, the Dalmatian is cookies and cream, and the corgi I chose is Ovaltine, albeit rather mild.

April’s is actually a Thai brand, and I-Bing is a sister company which seems to be testing the waters here in Singapore before branching out alone. Their slogan is a hilarious and enticing ‘a fruity frenzy of frozen fun’, which seems to encapsulate their usp perfectly.

The dogs are special, but a whole series of fruit shaped, fruit flavoured frozen treats are on the main menu, from mango and mangosteen to a very fragrant durian.

I-Bing also has some adorable flower pots with colourful roses, each one set in a bed of Oreo cookie ‘soil’. These are also a ridiculously cheap S$3, and come with a cute miniature garden shovel with which to scoop them up. The different coloured blooms are pink milk, pink lemonade, and blueberry mint flavours, the last of these being slightly strange but when it looks this good, who cares?

If you don’t want to eat these right away, they can be packed up with dry ice and whisked home within an hour, where you can pop them into your own freezer for another day. I am rather hoping that I-Bing comes to Singapore to stay.

  


Cheese Tea

Category : Food

Yes, you read that right… tea with a frothy cheese topping is now officially a ‘thing’. It seems to have originated in China, and has turned up in Singapore via Taiwan and Malaysia. And not just any old tea – there are kiosks popping up in every mall with a lengthy menu of flavours.

So, once you have decided on black or green tea, not to mention hot/iced, sweet/less sweet, you get to choose between different fruits and vegetables. Strawberry cheese tea? Dragonfruit?? Chocolate, avocado and even taro flavours are also an option, and prices range from S$3.40 to over S$7.

Seeing me hovering over the display, the girl behind the counter at Heetea decided to reel me in with a free sample, which turned out to be a mistake. The cup was the size of a thimble, the green tea topped with a sweet, foamy ooze of what she assured me was cream cheese blended with milk.

Apparently you don’t stir this in, or even sip the tea from the bottom through a straw, but drink through the foam so you get the flavours of both tea and topping at once. Plus a very messy top lip, presumably.

“Drink it in one shot,” I was instructed, and I really did try, but it was truly revolting and I nearly choked. “Cannot take it, eh?” Well, no. Good job I had some water in my bag to wash the taste away. She’s probably still laughing…


‘Singapore Flavour’ Potato Chips

And why not? Browse the potato chip section of your local convenience store and you will find a whole range of unusual and often downright bizarre flavours. Salted egg flavour, anyone? Salmon wasabi? Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding??

Not being able to resist most of these temptations, even if I only try them the once, there was no way I was not going to sample these Singapore Laksa and Hainanese Chicken Rice potato chips.

They are actually the brainchild of local company F.EAST (this stands for Flavours of the East) who were inspired to create chips based on hawker stall favourites, and apparently have a bunch of other Asian favourites in the pipeline.

I was planning to blind taste these to see if I could tell the flavours apart, but the smell and colour were an instant giveaway – for the laksa version at least. These are reddish coloured and give off a strong aroma of coconut and spice. As for the chicken rice version, although there is a hint of ginger and sesame, unfortunately these paled in comparison.

That said, I enjoyed both of these and will probably buy them again, if only to amuse visitors.


Chipstar Chocolates

Here’s another of those ‘only in Asia’ snacks which seem to defy logic. Maybe I am just too conservative in my tastes (although anyone who has been on a Julietours would probably dispute this…) but I find it very hard to enjoy snacks which combine sweet and savoury in the same mouthful.

But hey, I like Chipstar crisps, which are pretty much identical to Pringles and so dangerously addictive. And of course I cannot conceive of a world without chocolate. As I did not actively dislike some of the items I have previously tasted combining these 2 things, and I am unable to walk past bizarre new offerings like these when I spot them on a Japanese convenience store shelf, here they are…

What you get is exactly what you see in the picture on the packet – chocolate truffles coated in chocolate then rolled in crushed potato chips. Decidedly strange by Western standards, but not as ghastly as you might imagine. In fact, not that far removed from what the taste might be if you rolled these in crushed almonds or peanuts instead.

That said, these are not the nicest chocolate truffles underneath the chips, although no worse than you’d expect for the price. But having tried them once, I will be perfectly happy to leave them on the shelf next time.


Transparent Tea

This has to be one of the more disconcerting drinks I have sampled. It looks like water and yet… it is actually sweet, milky tea.

Now if I actually ever drank my tea sweet and milky, I would probably have enjoyed this very much. But I don’t, so let’s just say I was delighted and amused by the look of it and intrigued to know how Suntory had managed to produce a liquid that looks and tastes like this.

Luckily, it doesn’t seem to be a trade secret. Apparently the steam from boiling water is passed through tea leaves and becomes infused with their flavour. The steam is then condensed back into water that tastes of tea but is still clear.

The milk is a different story, but if you separate out and remove the milk fats and proteins, what you have left is the lactose and minerals which are transparent but still taste of milk. Put them together with the tea scented water and there you have it – Premium Morning Tea, a snip at $2.50.


Peeling Pad

This little exfoliation pad looked like fun from the picture on the packet, but was a bit tricky to figure out. As I opened it before taking a proper look at the instructions, I ended up using both sides randomly – probably in the wrong order but never mind.

Later investigation revealed that you tuck your fingers into the handy pocket, then start with the slightly dimpled side, circling gently over your face to remove impurities and excess sebum. You then flip the pad over and use the smooth side to even out skin tone, soothe and moisturise.

Or that is supposed to be the idea. There was quite a lot of product on the pad, which foamed up nicely in use, and I could see the peeling effect had worked pretty well. But all the flakes of skin left behind needed washing away, at which point any moisturising from the other side of the pad was gone, too. My skin felt tight and dry, but very clean, so having to use my own face cream afterwards was not a problem.

I wouldn’t want to use this every day, but once a month or so it would make exfoliation far quicker and more convenient that using my current product. This is Korean, obviously, from High&High, although I bought it in Japan for just ¥500.


Calbee Chocolate Sticks

I do not know where to start describing these, except to say I hated them.

Calbee is a Japanese firm famous for crispy potato snacks, many varieties of which are sold in small pouches or tubs like this. I rather like the ‘normal’ chipsticks, which are salty and crunchy, speckled with bits of vegetable so you could almost imagine they are good for you.

These are another story, however, and from the artwork on the tub may well be a Valentine’s Day special for this year. Although I am not quite sure what I was expecting, it certainly wasn’t this – they have a strong chocolatey taste and smell, but still manage to be salty and potatoey at the same time.

It is a disconcerting combination, and for someone who does not like mixing sweet and savoury, not at all pleasant. But I have Asian friends who think nothing of alternating bites of cake and curry, so presumably they are the sort of customers that Calbee hope will be wolfing down these treats.

I shall just chalk them down to experience and never buy them again!


Secret Flower Jelly Enchanted Lipstick

Alright, this product from Kailijumei Japan has a very silly name which has probably lost a lot in translation, but look at it – a gorgeous clear lipstick with flecks of gold leaf and a tiny dried flower set inside the jelly. It smells fruity, the clear gloss transforms into varying shades of pink on your lips, depending on your body temperature, and the case is shiny gold with pearls set into the base. Who could resist?

Certainly not me, when I spotted it amongst the girlie delights on sale in the basement arcade of Lumine, Shinjuku. At more than ¥5,000 a pop it was a bit pricey, but for entertainment value worth every yen.

It feels a bit sticky going on, which together with the strong scent reminded me very much of the roll-on lip gloss we all used to wear when I was a teenager, but in a good way. The blurb seems to say that the various different lipsticks all turn into the same colour on your lips, the only difference is in the colour of the flower inside the stick. I suppose that means you only need to buy the one, which considering the price, is just as well…


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