Truffle Bouquet

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.


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!


Golden Beauty

Category : Beauty

Gold was being used in Chinese medicine more than 4000 thousand years ago, and in India forms part of longstanding Ayurvedic treatments designed to rejuvenate older people. In the early part of last century, before more ‘modern’ scientific drugs were developed, gold was even used to treat tuberculosis, rheumatism and syphilis.

Surprisingly, it also appears to have many properties which are very useful in beauty treatments, and there are increasing numbers of (very expensive) products out there literally sparkling with promise. I was not sure how far to believe the claims I was reading, but there does seem to be a lot of reputable research around.

So, those little flakes of 24 carat in your face cream may well be worth the price. Because it seems that gold not only has antiseptic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it boosts circulation and helps the absorption of other skincare ingredients. Add to this its ability to help firm the skin, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and thus delay the aging process, and you have what amounts to magic in a pot.

I found this trial set, from Hakuichi, Japan, at Haneda airport, and thought it would be a fine way to spend up my remaining yen. The sample sizes were also very convenient for my next trip, and in fact lasted for literally weeks afterwards, which was a nice surprise.

All the products contained a liberal sprinkling of golden flecks, although I soon discovered that if I used a cotton pad to apply them, the gold stuck to the cotton and did not go on my face. Using my fingers got around this problem very well.

The highlight of the set was the folder of gold leaf sheets, to be applied to the face. The trick is apparently to apply serum first, then – using the clean end of the paper slip so that your fingers do not touch the gold leaf – apply the gold to your face. After about 10 minutes, you can then apply a little more serum and massage the gold leaf into your skin.

I was amazed to see that the gold leaf really did seem to vanish into my skin, because I was fully expecting it to be crumbling off into the sink and sticking to my fingertips. Whether just a couple of applications has any noticeable effect remains to be seen, certainly nobody was commenting on my new sparkle afterward, but I enjoyed this range very much and – if the normal size wasn’t so expensive – would consider buying it again.


Dessert Pizza

This seems to be a ‘thing’ right now, which is interesting. I mean, why not serve a pizza with sweet toppings as opposed to savoury? It’s like saying you can only eat bread with the likes of ham and cheese, which would thoroughly disappoint the jam on toast eaters in my family.

Having decided this was a good idea, I have been spoiled for choice in sweet pizzas to sample. Clearly, I bypassed the durian version (not being entirely certain you could class any durian as sweet…) but was more than happy with the various concoctions of fruit and chocolate that I tried.

In Singapore, you get what you are given, and this seems to mean orange with chocolate or Nutella with banana, both excellent combinations.

At Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar in Tokyo, however, it was very exciting to be able to create one of a kind pizza slices from a vast range of options. These start with the base, which you can get coated with milk, dark or white chocolate, or milk or strawberry cream cheese. Add marshmallows, sliced fruit, candies, cookie pieces and all sorts of sprinkles, top it with ice cream if you like, and tuck in!

In retrospect, this all sounds to be completely over the top, but after a hard afternoon shopping in Harajuku, it was a delicious and energy boosting treat. Let’s hope this particular idea is one that catches on!


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.


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…


Security Luggage Racks

I don’t know about you, but I get very nervous on trains when I have to leave my luggage on those racks at the end of the carriage. When the train is full, or I can’t actually see my bags from where I’m sitting, I have to jump up and make sure they are not being ‘accidentally’ removed during station stops en route.

Of course it is possible to carry bicycle locks or similar, for peace of mind, but you never know when you are going to need one, and usually I never realise it would have been a smart idea until too late.

So I was very happy to see this locking device for suitcases, on the NEX train from Narita airport into Tokyo. It also made me laugh, because Japan is probably the last place in the world where you could leave your bags unattended without stress, but also probably the first place to think of making life that little bit easier and more convenient for travellers. The service is also completely free of charge.

Essentially, you heave your bag onto the rack, and use one of the curly cords to secure the handle to the rail. Set your own combination and you are free to relax until your destination. The only trick is remembering the code to remove the cord in time to get off the train. And as Japanese trains tend to stop for seconds only at most intermediate stations, there is no time to be messing about with this. If you forget the number or it is the 3rd possibility you try, you will probably find you have either missed your stop or need to continue to the end of the line before rail staff are available to help you unlock your bag.

Oh, and as this is Japan and the status quo hinges on everyone being polite and considerate to everyone else, do please remember to reset the lock to zero for the convenience of the next user…

 

 


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