Cigarette Incense

Cigarette Incense

It was a real puzzle working out what these strange little sticks were when I saw them in Hanoi airport – they looked very intriguing packed into bottles and arranged in gift boxes. It took the combined efforts of three shop assistants and some entertaining sign language before I got the picture, so they must have been a bit disappointed when I decided not to buy…

But it is a fascinating concept, and I’d be interested to hear from someone who has bought them to discover if they really do work as advertised.

Essentially, the sticks are tiny slivers of agar wood, which is sometimes called oud and is used in the production of fantastically expensive perfumes in the Middle East. And not just any bits of wood, but heartwood from certain species of the aquilaria tree which has been transformed by mould into a dark, dense resin-like substance which contains a crucially important aromatic chemical compound.

What you do is (using a special cigarette needle if you have one) insert an agar wood stick into the centre of your cigarette then smoke as normal. The effects are apparently fairly special: the perfume from the burning wood covers the normal smell of smoke, making things more pleasant for both the smoker and other people nearby, it also acts as a breath freshener. Not to mention that it apparently reduces nicotine damage and provides some sort of detox for the whole body – especially in the case of wine and beer drinkers. In fact, it is touted as improving male health in general.

I did manage to track down some information online once I was home, and discovered that you don’t have to put these in your cigarette and smoke them to reap the benefits. Apparently some of the same benefits can be gained by simply burning the sticks as you would incense, or making them into tea. Maybe I should have bought some after all…


Pho Flavoured Beer

Category : Food

I know, it sounds diabolical, but there it was on the menu and I could not resist.

Pho is of course the noodle soup which is possibly the signature dish of Vietnam, and according to the label, this craft beer, made in Hanoi by Furbrew, uses light roasted malts to get the umami flavour of broth before adding the five big spices together with an infusion of red chilli.

To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy this, but was pleasantly surprised. Not that I was completely convinced that it tasted of pho, which I’d already had for breakfast that day, so the flavour was fresh in my mind.

I was at a small place run by someone who’d got his big break on the Vietnamese version of MasterChef, and was eating a very interesting deconstructed banh mi. This beer, with its tagline:  ‘Untraditional. Unconventional. Unexpected.’, matched the concept behind the food very well. Although at 110,000 Vietnamese dong it cost twice the price of regular Hanoi beer, the chilli kick was great and it really complimented the herbs and pickles in the banh mi. One was enough, but I would definitely consider ordering it again.


Weasel Coffee

Currently giving Jamaican Blue Mountain a run for its money as the most expensive cup of coffee you can buy, ‘weasel’ coffee is something that divides the men from the boys.

I have lost count of the people I know who have recoiled in horror from the thought of trying this, which is a shame although understandable.

The problem is that the coffee beans have been through the digestive tract of the weasel, which in certain SE Asian countries has learned to steal the ripe berries from the coffee bushes as a delicious and stimulating snack. The beans inside the berries are deposited later and have to be ‘harvested’ from the weasel poo before going through the usual roasting and grinding process.

I have no idea what prompted the coffee farmer who discovered this to actually try it in the first place, but it has become a premium product. And I guess the high price is justified by the trouble you have to go through to retrieve the digested beans, which – even if you ‘farm’ them by feeding the berries to caged weasels – is still fairly disgusting.

Also, however you get your hands on the beans, there are never very many of them so they have a rarity value, not to mention that they need extra treatment to make them fit for human consumption.

In the end, is it worth it apart from the shock value? I would say it is. The flavour of the resulting brew has a richer, mellower taste, which makes it a better drink.

Mind you, as weasel coffee tends to come from Vietnam and other SE Asian countries where the beans often have a more sharp, sour flavour then the classic S American varieties, this is probably an important improvement.

You can now get weasel coffee in all sorts of forms, from the beans or basic grind to the fancy ‘origami’ coffee filters which balance over your cup as they drip. It also comes in varying grades and strengths, and even from specific areas. (My most recent purchase of’ kopi luwak’ – not the one pictured – is sourced from the slopes of the Kintamani volcano in Bali, which makes it even more interesting.)

As I first had this in Vietnam, where coffee comes sweetened with a big dollop of condensed milk, I tend to drink it this way at home, too. And when they have it in the supermarket, I can use the ‘stay fresh longer’ tubes of chocolate flavoured condensed milk to make myself a weasel mocha. Perfect!


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