Taipei’s Convenience Stores!

One of the things that I really love about some of our Asian neighbours is the abundance and thus easy availability of convenience stores. Funnily, the Japanese have an abbreviated form of this term, and they call them “combini”. The first time I was in Tokyo years ago and heard this term I was wondering what it meant, but after having visited Japan numerous times thereafter and also learning the Japanese language for the past years, I realise that they like to shorten words and sometimes they don’t make perfect sense. Haha.

Anyway, Japan is one of those countries that have just about a convenience store lurking at any street corner, whether it is 7-11, AMPM, Lawson’s, Family Mart, etc. The list can go on because right now I can’t remember all the different brands of convenience stores. Similarly in Seoul (since I haven’t been to other parts of Korea) and also Taipei, these stores are everywhere! I don’t think the situation is replicated in Hong Kong though, and perhaps also not in Singapore, or at least not that I recall, especially since we are impoverished where convenience store variety is concerned. We only have 7-11 and Cheers is that right? But generally, convenience stores are a dime and dozen in Asia, as compared to say, Europe.

So last month I took a one-week business trip to Taipei, and this time I was staying in a different hotel, nearer to the city centre, and I was pretty amazed that in the vicinity of my hotel, there were so many cafes and convenience stores. I absolutely love the convenience of them, because they operate round the clock and they are quite well-stocked. I am not a big fan of eating proper dinners so these places are a haven to me for finding food and drinks that I can bring back to my hotel room to satiate hunger when it arises, or whether to just buy some snacks to pop into my bag for an emergency hunger fix. Even if you need some toiletries that you have forgotten to bring on the trip or need some medication, these stores are the place to go to!

I think it is probably not forbidden to take pictures in the store, but I tried to sneak a photo one afternoon while I was at this 7-11 near the office buying some drinks. Isn’t it just amazing what they have? I always spend an inordinate amount of time in front of the display, mulling over what I should buy, till I think the shop assistants probably start to suspect if I might be trying to steal something.

The kiwi drink I got was surprisingly nice and not so sweet like how we normally expect bottled drinks to be. And needless to say, the chocolate-coated jumbo raisins were spectacular. I love raisins and milk chocolate, so this combination is a winner for me.So I saw this brown rice beverage one evening and bought it, and it was also not the sweet type, but yet still tastes really good. Ok, maybe healthy things don’t necessarily have to taste bland and bad, but one half-litre carton of this would seriously be enough to fill you up for a good long time. I wished they had them in smaller packages though, like perhaps half the size or 200ml boxes, which would then make it easier for me to try more things. Unfortunately, economies of scale probably dictate that such sizes are more popular for the general consumer and not the occasional tourist.

And of course they would have Jagabee. I went nuts over the various flavours of Jagabee when I was in Japan some time back, and ever since then I have always liked snacking on these, even if I am supposed to be on a diet. I can’t resist this potato snack. But maybe balancing it with a bottle of yogurt will make it better (delusional but who cares)? I can’t wait to go to Japan again and check what limited edition/seasonal flavours they have!

The other interesting thing about these convenience stores in Taipei, or sometimes Seoul/Japan is that they sell really cute stuff, or they have some sort of loyalty programs where if you purchase a certain amount you get a sticker (this applies for Taipei and Hong Kong, I can’t remember for the others) and when you have accumulated a certain number of stickers you can exchange them for some free gifts or buy something with an additional top-up in cash. I have seen Doraemon merchandise in Taipei, and in the past Rilakuma stuff in Hong Kong. I know a lot of people probably couldn’t care less about such things, but honestly I think they must have quite some clout in these cities to make the convenience stores use them as a bait for the consumers. In Singapore, we are probably more practical and there are less people into such cutesy stuff, but perhaps not because when we think of the queues for the Hello Kitty toys, I think we do have a market for them. It is probably a business direction undertaken by the franchisees of these stores, but well that is a point they are losing out on.

Somehow, in Singapore, a convenience store is really just a place we pop into when we need to get some snacks, magazines, drinks, etc. in the middle of the night when nothing else is open. Well it is a place we visit out of convenience, hey presto and therefore its name, but really the entire experience of “combinis” here and abroad is really so different. And because Halloween was just round the corner then, they even had M&Ms in special packaging!

for the love of bread

I can’t emphasize enough how much I love bread. Probably most of my friends know what a major fan I am of baked goods, and especially bread in particular. Pastries, muffins, cakes are also something that I cannot seem to give up despite my incessant whining about wanting to lose weight, but bread, and in particular, the smell of freshly-baked bread, that aroma when bread is being baked in the oven… ah, that is simply heavenly.

It is something that rivals the aroma of coffee brewing, the stimulation of the olfactory sense that just brings a smile to my face and of course conjures up all sorts of images of what these smells mean, and imaginations of how great they must taste. Unfortunately of course, nice aromas don’t always translate into great-tasting food or coffee, because sometimes the smell is heavenly but the quality of the food or drink doesn’t deliver what you expect.

Last Friday while I was waiting for my colleague outside Hankyu in Taipei to cab back to the hotel, there was this smell of bread wafting through the air, which came from a bakery nearby. I didn’t initially want to buy anything from the shop but the smell just had me walking back to it, eyeing the display and thinking how nice they must taste. Eventually I couldn’t resist it and bought a cranberry bread that was rather huge. As I had just had the muffin at the agnes b. cafe I just packed it into my bag, brought it onto the plane and it flew home with me. It was only until the next morning that I took it out to eat while I was in class, and despite that the dome-shaped bread had sort of flattened while it was being carried in my bag, it still retained its amazing softness. It felt like a cross between a sponge cake and bread, and with dried cranberry bits speckled on top and a little burnt edges on the rime of the bread, I really liked it a lot!

Sadly, I forgot to take a photo of the bread because I was only focused on devouring it and the picture above of the display that I tried to stealthily take doesn’t do any justice to the breads. But I was glad I gave in to my temptation and bought the bread! There have been various bakeries sprouting up on our island lately, so it is both good and bad news for me. Good because it means I will have easier access to more great-tasting breads (or at least what they are famed for), and bad because it means I can kiss my diet plans goodbye.

agnès b. café L.P.G., Eslite Mall – 信義誠品店, Taipei

After a year or so, I finally made it to the agnès b. café L.P.G. (Le Pain Grillé), an outlet which is located at the Eslite Mall in Taipei, also known as 信義誠品店, one of the well-known bookstores in Taipei. It is well-connected to the Taipei City Hall subway station, where you can walk through the basement food hall of Hankyu Department store directly to the basement of Eslite Mall, and find it on the ground level in a corner that also opens out onto the street. The bookstore is on level two where the Eslite Cafe is located (which I tried last year and found it not bad with its tea break offerings and Lavazza coffee), and on the ground and basement levels, there are some pretty cool-looking clothing stores/counters. Of course, my main aim was to check out the cafe, especially since I have still yet to regain my shopping mood/inspiration that has gone astray long before. Last year when I was in Taipei in June, this was one of the places I wanted to check out, unfortunately the day that I visited, it was closed for some shooting, which was why I ventured upstairs and found the Eslite Cafe. This time, as we concluded our work slightly earlier and had a couple of free hours before our flight home, I thought that I could grab this chance to visit, and my two colleagues decided to join me since they didn’t have any better ideas where to go to pass time.

On a Friday afternoon, this place was relatively quiet and peaceful, even though we got there right about past 12. I guess most people would be having a proper lunch, either at the food courts/outlets elsewhere, or having takeaways in their offices (which seems like what a lot of Taiwanese office peeps do). There was a rather massive queue at Starbucks that was also on the ground level but at the other flank of the building. Anyway, it was good for us since it meant it was easy to find a table. The cafe isn’t sprawling, there is this counter that you see here, stocked with very attractive but relatively pricey agnes b. stuff, including mugs and cookies, etc., and in front of the counter would be the tables and chairs, probably at most 20 small tables in total.

I had the cappuccino, despite just having a Starbucks cafe latte while I was at the office, because I just had to have coffee in a cafe, that’s me. And because it was lunch time, and because I am in a cafe and need to order some food, I chose their cute-looking muffins over the sandwiches or pastries/cakes, even though those were the main highlight in the display case.

I don’t think the coffee is fabulous, but it isn’t bad either; it’s just ok. It’s not that kind of coffee where you’d drink and go “woah” whether that exclamation is due to it being exceptionally good or bad. I really need to start improving on my memory of how things taste, or at least make a note to jot down on the spot what I think of the food and drinks I have had, instead of just relying on my unreliable memory and which in the absence of, I can only fall back on whether I felt it was terribly good or bad.

The muffin was a good choice though. I chose it because it looked nice and small, a size where I wouldn’t feel like I am overindulging in carbohydrates like most other muffins tend to be. But after I was done with it, I just wanted more. The muffin isn’t dense and moist like some baked stuff tend to be, or dry and crumbly like how I dislike muffins to be, it was in a state of being just nice. And this was an oat-bran flavour that I have a bias towards these days. My taste buds have grown to not fancy things that are overtly sweet in general (for most foodstuff anyway), and this wasn’t sweet. I used to, and still, like blueberry-flavoured muffins but because blueberry is a fruit and some places probably use syrup or sweetened blueberry jam or something to bake the muffins (I don’t really know actually), they can become really sweet. Where oat bran is concerned, it gives the muffin a flavour without becoming sweet, plus I can delude myself to thinking that it is actually a healthy choice.

Both my colleagues aren’t coffee drinkers like the addict that I am, and one of them ordered the hot chocolate and quiche. She commented that the quiche was nice but it was too cheesy, so she ended up not finishing it, even though it really wasn’t that huge. Quiches have started to become another of my downfalls, hmm, seems like my list of kryptonite is getting longer and longer, urgh, I have to start culling it. But I didn’t try the quiche so I don’t know, cheese is generally ok for me, but I have encountered situations where I have also start feeling overwhelmed when there is too much cheese or when the quiche is too creamy due to the egg.

The other colleague didn’t order any food, but got this instead. I don’t really know what it is because I hadn’t asked, but it does look pretty nice, and of course, sinful, doesn’t it? With the froth and a dollop of whipped cream on top!

Overall, the agnes b. cafe experience in Taipei was good, and I suspect that the circumstances had a part to play in it as well, since it wasn’t crowded when I was there and it was the end of a work trip just before heading home. Everything felt good at that point. The next time I am in Taipei, if I were to have the opportunity to visit the cafe again, I will probably try the other food items. Or if I happen to visit Hong Kong, I will need to make a trip to one of their agnes b. cafes too!

Mister Donut

With all the talk about town of Krispy Kreme finally making its way to our shores after such a long time, I got into some doughnut discussions with friends recently. Actually, it wasn’t anything much other than me stating my preference for another brand of doughnuts, Mister Donut, which I think hails originally from Japan. I think the first time I tried this brand of doughnuts was in Taipei, many years ago, but it was that particular type that I first tried and I think it is probably the only type that I have always bought and ate whenever I come across a Mister Donut.

So on this trip to Taipei last week, I made my way to one Mister Donut store I knew, located in the basement of the A11 building of Mitsukoshi Department store (or in Chinese, known as Xin Guang San Yue). Unfortunately, it being a Sunday, the limited seats in the store were fully occupied, so I had to takeaway and eat it along the way. I was totally frustrated at some point about finding seats in cafes because seats were so limited everywhere and people were just ubiquitous, that is a problem of solo travelling which I still have yet to find a solution to. Anyway, there are plenty of Mister Donut stores in Taipei, much more than I can ever recall seeing anywhere else, more so than even in Tokyo, so it shouldn’t be hard to get your doughnut craving satiated.

Back in 2006 when I was in Taipei, I took a picture of the display case, and while my friend also tried to snap some photos, we were told it wasn’t allowed due to some copyright issues, which kind of baffled us. What is it about a doughnut display case that can be copyrighted? Anyway, it made me cautious when I tried taking pictures this time round, so I ended up with just the signage of this store outside Hankyu Department store.

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The only type of doughnut from this chain that I really love is the Pon De Ring, pictured below. These two were from a trip last year to Bangkok (yes, they have this in Bangkok too, but Singapore why aren’t you bringing in Mister Donut), and generally the one that I’d order would be the original version. I always feel that the best way to know if something tastes good would be to try the original, much like how a friend decides the goodness of ice-cream based on the taste of the vanilla-flavoured ice-cream. It’s quite fun to eat it when you have the luxury of a seat or if you don’t mind having bits of the icing sugar stuck to your hands while you walk and eat, because as you can see, you can break off the doughnut by the balls that make up the ring, and it is chewy dough, not like the usual doughnut that is more bread. This tends to be denser in texture so one doughnut is more than enough to fill you for a while but of course, I always want more after eating one.

 

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And this is the other attempt at the Taipei store outside Hankyu (or Taipei City Hall station), where you get to see a bit of the display.

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This is the picture of the display case that I took back in 2006 in Taipei. This shop was in the then-New York New York building, which no longer stands.

And this was what I had in Fukuoka sometime back in 2010!

I don’t think there is any Mister Donut in Hong Kong, not that I can remember coming across anyway, and even Krispy Kreme couldn’t survive there I think. Perhaps doughnuts are not so in favour with the Hong Kong people. But doughnuts, whether it’s Mister Donut, Krispy Kreme, or Dunkin Donuts, are widely-available in Seoul, though of course nothing beats the concentration and density of cafes there.

home again!

I always have mixed feeling about travelling, and each time when I’m abroad I look forward to heading home, the ease back into a comfortable routine and familiarity, yet I dread the staidness of the life that I am so used to at home. Mostly I think it’s the weather that I have not been able to, and suspect will never, acclimatise to. Having lived in this humid and tropical city state for so many years and counting, it’s weird how my physical being is unable to adapt. Perhaps it’s not something that can be done by most bodies, or my body just can’t adapt to temperatures well.

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The autumnal climate has kind of descended on Taipei, so for the last week that I was there, it was a wonderful feeling walking out from a building to cool, sometimes cold, breezes passing us by. I love walking, and it’s even better when you walk for hours outside and not have to break into sweat. But travelling is travelling, and after 4 hours or so, I’m back home again. Each flight is feeling more tedious regardless of the duration, and the time inflight just feels longer and longer.

Waking up early today for my usual Saturday morning class, I was frankly still fighting traces of sleep lingering, coupled with the omnipresent fatigue in my being that just can’t seem to be erased. But I enjoy being up and out early, unless it’s for work, because I want to make the best of my day and whatever waking hours I can squeeze out of a day. Different people have differing ideas about sleep and rest of course, so that’s a discussion that never goes anywhere with my friends. But it’s hard to be sympathetic to some people who lament to me about not having time in the morning for breakfast and feeling serious hunger pangs at lunch. You can’t really expect me to feel sorry for you if you prefer to sleep that extra minutes instead of getting your ass out of bed to eat some breakfast. I can understand if they have to skip lunch or dinner because of work exigencies that extend beyond meal times but where breakfast is concerned, I believe it is simply a matter of choice. Or it is just tough for me to empathise because I sleep less than most people, and I have an odd preference for waking up early.

The week of cool weather whilst in Taipei is making me think of Christmas. Wish I could head somewhere nice and cool for a short vacation then but with my current plans, that doesn’t seem too likely. Oh well, maybe Christmas in Singapore isn’t such a bad idea too. Who knows?

flying solo in 2011

This is probably my most image-heavy post ever in my history of blogging. I can’t remember if I have ever posted anything else with as many pictures as this… though by standards of the online community, this isn’t much. But by my standards it is a record. I would rather write than post pictures simply because it takes less effort to write than to crop my pictures, choose which ones to post and then upload them here. It is a little tedious and I am very lazy, even if I know everyone prefers visuals. But tonight I don’t feel like ‘talking’ as much.

Twelve months in a year, fourteen cities including home, which I am sure you can spot from the pictures. It is that obvious.

Je suis fatigué.

succumbing to the bug

I think I should stick to this habit to take a break from blogging over the weekend, although I suspect it is not something that I will stick to. Some habits stick because they form naturally, others that I try to form, well I don’t have so much luck and perseverance with them. So we shall see…

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of convenience stores; I wonder if each time I wander into a convenience store, or combini as they call it in Japan (trust the Japanese to come up with some abbreviated English), when I spend a long time browsing through the shelves and taking a longer-than-necessary time deciding what I should leave with, if the shop assistant is pondering if I am a shop-lifter.

Anyway back to Taipei! I mean… talking about it. I was sort of lucky to have a few hours to myself the day I arrived since work only began the next day, so I went out and got baked in the heat, and as well I stopped along the way at a convenience store to pick up some groceries (yup the ahjumma/obasan in me), where I found this:

Japanese snacks/sweets/whatever are also something I really adore and so when I see something new or interesting I’d definitely pick it up. That also explains why I have this neverending problem fighting the flab and whatnot because I see too many interesting stuff in these stores. I love Earl Grey, as I have discovered in the earl grey Fauchon ice cream that I unfortunately cannot find anywhere else other than Japan, and earl grey latte isn’t so bad too, plus now with earl grey-flavoured chocolates that really do have an earl grey taste to it, that mixed with the bittersweetness of chocolate, is really a big thumbs up! I regretted not getting extras to bring home but in a way it’s good for me too.

One other thing I really enjoy about travelling (if only it wasn’t that I had to work, I would love everything about it) is the wider variety of merchandise that is available for sale. I don’t know everything that is overseas that are not available here or are offered at a much lower price abroad, but through friends I get to know some when they pass me their shopping lists. According to my friend who is a make-up/skincare junkie, Laura Mercier is cheaper abroad (that I have yet to verify since I don’t use their products), so I helped her get a couple of items and at the same time bought something for myself i.e. the foundation primer. 

I actually don’t use foundation so I don’t know if a primer for it would benefit me in anyway, but I like that the texture is rather light and it’s not oily when you apply onto your skin. For me, I think my sunscreen works better in helping make-up stay on my face for the duration of the day as compared to the primer, but I haven’t used it enough yet (without the sunscreen) to really comment on it.

And sorry for the ring-cam-whoring but here’s just another picture of my latest accessory buy that I am just so in love with.

My camera really seems like it’s on its way to RIP because the macro function seems to have gone kaputt but after the ring I think I need to hold off any other major purchases since there are other things in the pipeline that I am already planning for, which may also be a cause why I still have yet to score anything from the GSS although it started more than a month back.