Taobao product recommendation – multi egg frying pan

Multi egg frying pan

I wasn’t going to recommend this frying pan, until now. Well, i was expecting it to be non-stick enough to require little to no oil/fat when frying eggs, which isn’t the case. It only works when you use a small amount of oil/fat (as you do with the typical non-stick egg frying pan), which i now feel is acceptable, since fried eggs taste better with a bit of oil/fat anyway.

The main advantage of this frying pan is of course being able to fry up to 4 eggs at a time, which is a major time saver when you’re preparing a meal for a few people. I like the size of the eggs you get – small (as pictured above) and slightly tall (the photo above is deceptive – you won’t get the straight edges). To make sure the top part of the eggs are cooked, you need to cover the pan when frying the eggs. A cover is not supplied, but you can just use whatever pan cover you already have. Continue reading Taobao product recommendation – multi egg frying pan

Taobao product recommendation – cheesecake making tools

 

I’m a Cheesecake lover, and I finally took the plunge and made my first Cheesecake, after vowing to do so years ago. I used the supposedly “Perfect” Cheesecake recipe and followed it pretty closely, except in reducing the sugar used by more than half (Americans have sweet tooth). The result was really better than expected for a maiden attempt. It is more moist than i would like it to be, but otherwise, it is just like any store-bought Cheesecake.

There are a few tools needed to make Cheesecake – a mixer of course (i used a cheap hand-held one – you can easily get one for under S$30), a Springform pan and a pan for the water bath. Without a doubt, Taobao is the best source for bakery equipment. I checked a local bakery supply shop just out of curiosity, and as expected, baking pans cost a lot more (something like 3 times more, though better quality) from there.

Continue reading Taobao product recommendation – cheesecake making tools

Taobao product recommendation – beer brewing equipment

Home brewing isn’t so popular in Singapore, but there are businesses (and I think only two) dealing with home brew equipment and supplies. As you can imagine, the equipment they sell, brought in from Australia/US/Europe, are not cheap, compared to what you can find on Taobao.

Actually, you don’t need fanciful equipment to brew beer. All you really need is an airtight food grade container with an airlock. You can easily improvise your own by cutting a hole on the container lid and sticking an airlock into the hole. The airlock is harder to DIY since it has to be silicone/plastic for contamination prevention, but it’s a small cost to get one anyway.

I’m lazy to go the DIY route when I can buy from Taobao. There are a dozens of stores dealing with home brew equipment and supplies on Taobao, not surprising since the Chinese are heavy drinkers. After scouting around, I decided to get the following items.

Stainless steel fermentation bucket

Fermentation bucket – a stainless steel bucket would be the envy of many brewers from the western hemisphere, where the cost of stainless steel equipment is prohibitively expensive. I love buying stainless steel products on Taobao, not just in the case of a fermentation bucket, because they are dirt cheap in China. Yeah, stainless steel everything. Continue reading Taobao product recommendation – beer brewing equipment

Taobao product recommendation – child toilet seat adaptor

Not a lot to say on this one, except that it fulfills its intended purpose. For a short period we were using a portable toilet bowl, which requires cleaning up after use. What I discovered was that by the time a child is ready for toilet training, they’re big enough in size to go direct to the real toilet bowl, so you might as well do so. Obviously, a portable toilet bowl is very expensive (S$40+), whereas the child toilet seat adaptor cost only 66 yuan (S$14.50) from Taobao. It is also much lighter than the portable toilet bowl.

Portable toilet bowl
Portable toilet bowl

Taobao product recommendation – cast iron pan

I think the most commonly used cooking pan nowadays is probably a non-stick coated pan. People love that food, especially mushy stuff like eggs or rice, don’t stick to a pan. No doubt a non-stick pan can be used by even an inexperienced cook, but did you just accept without questioning that it is the best for cooking? Often times, it is actually useful for food to be stuck to a pan – the charred and burnt part of the food. That’s right, if nothing gets stuck to a non-stick pan, even the charred and burnt part of the food DOESN’T get stuck and you’ll be eating all that carcinogenic stuff!

One fine day i was wondering, what kind of pan is the best for cooking. In general, there are 4 types of pans – non-stick (with a few variations), stainless steel, cast iron and ceramic (not the coated type). I won’t go into details, but if you Google for it, you’ll find tonnes of information telling you about how toxic a non-stick coated pan is. Well, perhaps some day i will completely do away with non-stick pans, but for the time being, i will still use it, with extra care not to scratch it nor subject it to high heat. From forum postings, i found my answers to my curiosity about stainless steel and cast iron pans. I think i have mostly avoided using them due to the sticking issue, but in actual fact, they’re non-stick enough for cooking most food.

The trick with using a stainless steel pan is said to be heating up the pan and pouring cold (room temperature) oil onto it before cooking. Whether the aforementioned method works (i always did as suggested), i’m not so sure, but I found out that the stainless steel pan is actually more non-stick than i always thought it isn’t. The advantage of using a stainless steel pan is even heat distribution, durability (use of metal utensils is fine), plus it is truly completely safe. It works fine for general cooking, is useful for preparing sauces by doing deglazing – specifically, scraping up all the charred or even burnt bits at the bottom of the pan. This is something i am unwilling to do even now, but i’ve come to realize that those charred parts are not as bad as they look. Certainly, they are not as burnt as they would be in the case of using a non-stick pan. This is even more so in the case of a cast iron pan – i found that whatever you scrape from the bottom of a cast iron pan is never burnt, which is why i’m loving cast iron. What sticks to the bottom of the pan is the most tasty part, and this is the whole idea behind deglazing. Scrape as much as you can from the bottom of the pan and mix it with the food you’re cooking.

The single downside of using cast iron is the weight. It is almost impossible to lift the pan (especially with food inside) with a single hand, so you basically have to leave the pan on the stove all the time when cooking and scooping out food. A cast iron pan requires performing seasoning every time you’re done with using it, whereby you have to heat it up and apply oil, to keep it from rusting and to keep the pan non-stick. Since this takes only a few minutes, it doesn’t bother me at all.

Overall, i love using a cast iron pan. It is perfect for searing meat and cooking tasty stuff using the deglazing method. It is also a means of getting Tze Char (stir fried) style Wok Hei (caramelizing) at home, because the cast iron can store up a lot of heat, and so simulate the high powered gas stoves in a real Tze Char kitchen. It is more non-stick than a stainless steel pan and is very forgiving – you can hardly get burnt food out of it.

Seasoned cast iron pan. Note the water droplets on the surface - they look no different from droplets on a non-stick pan
Seasoned cast iron pan. Note the water droplets on the surface – they look no different from the droplets on a non-stick pan

Cast iron pans are not so popular in this part of the world (actually a wok is made of cast iron, but it’s not quite the same idea) and it’s cheaper to get them from from Taobao or Amazon. I got mine from Taobao (shipped via sea freight of course), at RMB 113 (S$25), since it’s decidedly cheaper on Taobao than on Amazon, and basically i didn’t think there would be much of a difference in terms of quality, since cast iron is cast iron afterall (the surface will be rough no matter what). I’m happy with what i got.

Taobao product recommendation – SJ7000 Action Camera

I get nauseous easily from watching non-stabilized video, so I never wanted to get a camcorder to record video that I know I can’t bear to watch later on. However, i now need one to record the proceedings of an upcoming indoor event. With an under S$100 budget in mind, I turn to Taobao as usual.

At the back of my mind, instead of getting a Camcorder in the traditional form factor, i was toying with the idea of getting one of those action cameras meant for sports enthusiasts that are hugely popular now, since it has the video recording capability that i need anyway, and can double as a video recording tool on a trip (it can perform a few other tricks too).

Prior to this, i know next to nothing about action cameras, except that it was made popular by GoPro. A quick search on Taobao introduced me to a popular GoPro knockoff called SJCAM. It is so popular that almost all of what is sold on Taobao are not the real SJCAM, though all of them claim to be. I think it is probably the case that SJCAM outsources the manufacturing and simply puts its branding on the OEM products. I don’t mind a single bit getting something that is not officially SJCAM branded because the price alone – at less than half that of the comparable SJCAM branded one – justifies everything.

SJ7000 housed in the waterproof casing, comes in a generic box without any brand
SJ7000 housed in the waterproof casing, comes in a generic box without any brand

The model i settled on getting was the SJ7000. The package that includes an extra battery, at RMB 280 (S$62), costs only RMB 15 more than the package without, definitely more worthwhile. Shipping to Singapore cost another S$9. For the “princely” sum of S$71, i’m getting what appears to be the same camera as the SJCAM X1000 which retails at US$99 (S$140), so it’s almost exactly half priced. If one is tight on budget, the non-WiFi version is available at RMB 195 (S$43). However, i thought the WiFi version makes possible some fun usage scenarios. You could use it for security surveillance – place it in some corner and monitor what’s happening remotely through WiFi. You can even mount it on a drone. For the fun factor alone, i thought it was worth paying the extra S$20. The other fun thing one can try with the SJ7000 is time lapse video recording.

Overall, I think the video quality is satisfactory. The LCD display quality is rather mediocre, which is fine, since it mostly serves the purpose of a viewfinder and also to show an index of the videos and photos captured (there is no point using this camera for photography though, your mobile phone probably performs better). For my intended purpose of recording an indoor event, with camera mounted on a tripod, there is constant image noise on those static parts of the scene (i.e. the general background), due to video compression and probably an inferior quality CMOS sensor. In the case of using the action camera while on the move, as the camera is designed to do, this wouldn’t be a problem, since the scene is constantly changing. Again, this is acceptable to me, since i wasn’t intending to record professional quality video in the first place. The audio quality turned out to be above average, a pleasant surprise.

Another important aspect about this camera is that video is shot in wide angle (i.e. fisheye), which is mostly a good thing – you can capture a lot of the scene from a very short distance, also the footage will appear to be less shaky (less nausea inducing) when you’re using it on the move. In exchange for these advantages, you’ll have to accept the distortion that comes with shooting in wide angle.

Prior to buying this camera, i read that it (as with all the SJCAM cameras) has a 4GB file size limit, due to the use of the FAT32 filesystem by default. This restricts the maximum recording time, at Full HD resolution, to about 35 minutes per file, when the 4GB file size is reached. When this happens, there will be about a one second interval before the camera starts recording a new video. I was hoping that the fix to overcome this problem, as suggested in some online sources – re-formatting the SD card into exFAT filesystem, would work, but unfortunately it does not. Unless you constantly need to record very lengthy videos of more than 30 minutes, this would not be a problem though. By the way, a Class 10 UHS-I SD Card is good enough for recording a Full HD video, and these are dirt cheap.

The WiFi functionality worked as advertised – tested on Android using an app called Youmera. The link provided (through the QR Code on the box/manual) points to a Youmera download that is broken, but you can find this app on Google Play.

All in all, I think this was a good buy and i doubt you can get better bang for buck with any other action camera.

ezbuy (65daigou) review

First off, it is important for me go clarify that this is not a paid review (and I say again that none of the reviews on this site is). 65daigou and many of the third party Taobao parcel forwarders pay bloggers to write reviews. Reading paid reviews always feels distasteful to me and takes away credibility from the author despite how objective they say they are. That said, and I think it’s obvious, the monetisation strategy for this site is plain old advertising, so don’t be surprised if you see a 65daigou advertisement on this page (i hope 65daigou catches the hint).

Prior to this, I never used 65daigou, since it is easier to just use Taobao’s consolidated parcel forwarding. Besides, Taobao’s parcel forwarding goes by actual weight, whereas 65daigou, and practically all third party parcel forwarders go by volumetric weight, which typically costs more, unless your parcel is very compact and dense. My preference is always for actual weight because i think it’s less likely to spring me a nasty surprise. Nevertheless, I think 65daigou’s economy air shipping rate, at $1.99 $1.69 per 0.5kg volumetric weight (basically the industry standard), is quite competitive (for comparison, Taobao’s shipping rate starts at S$6.40 S$5.30 for the first kg, and thereafter S$2.65 S$1.85 per 0.5kg).

While trying to order a video camera, Taobao’s parcel forwarding option was not available, due to the lithium battery in the video camera. I was left with no choice but to go with a third party forwarder. Naturally, I turned to Google to find out which one was better, but was not able to arrive at a conclusive answer. Eventually I went with 65daigou, because they appear to be more established (having the capacity to handle shipments from China, Taiwan and USA says something), and they have an on-time shipment guarantee.

I would say 65daigou’s website is very intuitive to someone who understands the overall concept of buying from Taobao. I was promptly informed about the arrival of my parcel at their China warehouse, way ahead of the delivery status update on Taobao’s website. I made the payment for the shipment via an Internet Banking transfer, and received acknowledgement of my payment within 1.5 hours (they promised to update within a few hours). The shipping to destination happened in less than one day after that. The estimated date of arrival given was one week from shipping date, although the given estimation on the website is 4 to 6 days. Anyway, my parcel arrived in 5 days, so their guideline on the estimated time to ship proves to be accurate. I picked up my parcel (for free) from their warehouse in Seng Kang, which is just minutes from where i stay. The pick-up timing is 6-9pm for this particular warehouse, which is probably convenient for most people. It’s nice that they have a proper warehouse.

IMG_20151201_192753_wm
65daigou’s Seng Kang Warehouse

Update 12 Feb 2016: I have since tried their ship-for-me service for USA as well. Again, very prompt notice of parcel arrival, both at the US warehouse and arrival in Singapore. The shipping rate is also much cheaper than what i was using before (Flat S$3.99 per 0.5kg vs US$11.80 for first 0.5kg and US$3.25 for subsequent 0.5kg). Gosh! i was paying way too much before!

Update 30 Nov 2017

Ezbuy was in the news recently for their failure to fulfill customers’ buy-for-me orders. Somehow, Taobao wasn’t happy with ezbuy’s way of buying thousands of items per day using just a handful of Taobao accounts. If you’re one of such customer who use ezbuy buy-for-me, i would suggest it’s time you moved on to buying from Taobao yourself. It will save you money in the long run, and it will be easier for you to resolve problems by communicating with the seller directly.

Anyway, i have something good to say about ezbuy. Just today, a parcel was received into the USA warehouse on my behalf, and ezbuy’s staff managed to repack the parcel, reducing the volumetric weight from 2.59kg to 0.66kg! That saves me S$12!

Taobao product recommendation – Christmas gifts for under S$3

Christmas is just around the corner. I think many people are preparing to do Christmas gifts shopping soon. If you are looking into buying low cost gifts for kids in bulk, here are some suggestions:

1. 3D Puzzles

I’ve mentioned about buying these 3D Puzzles in a previous post. I still think this is a fantastic gift idea, suitable for boys and girls. I particularly like the “3D World Style” series and the famous buildings of the world series, which cost S$2.90 and S$1.60 respectively.

2. Korean style stationery

I think these cute stamps, together with the multicoloured ink pads, will appeal to most girls. They come in at S$0.70 and S$0.40 respectively.

3. Burr Puzzle (孔明锁)

These classical Chinese puzzles have elements of fun, education, aesthetic and tradition, all-in-one. Individually, they cost S$0.50 to S$1.30, or you can buy a set of 25 pieces for S$24. Mostly for boys.

Don’t forget to get cashback for these items from Shopback!

Taobao product recommendation – Dust blower and CCD swab

I’ve been using a Nikon D40 camera since 2009 and somehow, a few dust specks appeared on my camera CCD sensor barely a year after I had the camera (or maybe it was there since the very beginning, i don’t know), resulting in 2 specks in every photo I take that has a light background. Believe it or not, as annoying as that is, I resorted to removing the spots via post processing. I didn’t even find out how to lock-up the mirror so as to expose the CCD sensor and try to blow away the dust, not until recently.

I’m sure most people who own a DSLR camera would have a standard cleaning toolkit that consists of a blower brush, some lint-free paper and a bottle of cleaning fluid. When i finally did the mirror lock-up and tried to blow away the dust using the blower brush (with brush removed), it didn’t work. So i Googled for other ways to clean the CCD sensor. I found the suggestion of using a swab. Years ago, such a tool didn’t exist. I remember there was a tool called the Arctic Butterfly, which is basically a very soft brush which was spun around to generate static electricity. It was supposedly safe to wipe the sensor with the brush (but i’ve read many reviews that say it made things worse). Anyway, it was too expensive (was more than S$100 back then) for me to buy and use it practically just once. Fast forward to today, there are now inexpensive disposable swabs that are safe on the sensor. This is now the recommended step 2 in cleaning the sensor, if step 1 didn’t fix it. Step 1 involves using the blower, which is obviously safer since it does not come into contact with the sensor.

I was determined to fix the problem on my camera this time. I already found out beforehand that my blower brush cannot make it, and since a blower is very cheap anyway, i bought a new blower along with some swabs from Taobao. You should be able to guess that these items are many times cheaper from Taobao than from elsewhere, since they are mostly made in China. The blower cost 13 Yuan (S$2.90) while the swabs cost 8 Yuan (S$1.80) per a pack of 6 swabs.

Guess what happened when i tried the blower? I was half expecting that there will still be some stubborn dust specks left, but it actually cleared away all the dust! At least there was no more speck that was visible to me. There was no need to even use the swab to clean the sensor. I couldn’t believe it! All those years of blemished photos, arghh!

Don’t forget to get cashback from Shopback!

Taobao product recommendation – baking stone and tin

I have been trying my hand at baking bread for some time. I still don’t make very good bread, but good enough. I think most people buy rather than bake their own bread because they overestimate the difficulty associated with baking bread. What got me started was simply the thought of having freshly baked bread in the morning. Naturally i wanted to achieve that goal through the path of least resistance – using a bread machine. Since i wanted to just try out, i didn’t want to invest a lot of money. I got help to bring in a bread machine from the UK, since it’s cheaper from there and they use the same voltage and plugs. It is just a China-made OEM machine of course, but with a reassuring “UK stamp of approval”.

The results from the bread machine were less than satisfactory initially, largely due to my not following the recipes strictly, and also, i now suspect, due to using inferior quality yeast. After a while, i decided to try baking bread without using the machine. I still do use the machine for the initial kneading of bread, so, thankfully i am still getting a return on investment from the machine. I think not relying on the bread machine has given me a much better idea of what actually happens during the entire bread making process, like how gluten develops during kneading, how fermentation affects the taste of the bread and the joy of watching oven spring. Only when you get your hands dirty do you really learn how to transform flour, yeast and water into the kind of bread you want.

In my quest to make baguette and ciabatta, two of my favourite types of bread, i came across the recommendation to bake them on stone. I looked up Amazon and found the prices to be beyond what i was ready to cough up, so, naturally, i turn to Taobao. If you searched for baking stone (烘焙石板) on Taobao, you will find few results, but with attractive prices nevertheless. At the time when i did my search a year ago, though, the price of a baking stone on Taobao was comparable to those on Amazon, so i bought a piece of BBQ grilling stone (火山石石板) instead. These are made of volcanic rocks (thus proven to be able to withstand very high heat), and they work just as well when used as a baking stone. With the additional possibility of being used for BBQ, maybe it was a better buy than a baking stone.

wpid-img_20150817_101041-01_wm_600x450.jpgVolcanic BBQ grilling stone on the oven tray

The stone actually also serves another useful purpose – generating steam. To develop good crust on the bread, steam has to be applied during the first few minutes of baking. Unfortunately, only the very expensive ovens would provide this function. The workaround i used is to pour boiling water around the perimeter of the heated stone. Once the stone has absorbed enough heat, it can continuously boil the water that comes into contact with it. I can’t be certain if there’s enough steam generated, but any is better than none.

The stone also solves another problem. If you wanted a very hot base for baking (I found that it is required for baking puff pastries), you’ll typically have to place your baking tray at the bottom rack such that it is just above the heating elements. The problem is, though, the top of whatever you are baking may not get enough browning since it is too far away from the upper heating elements. With a baking stone, you can pre-heat the stone and do your baking in the middle rack such that you have sufficient top and bottom heat.

The most common form of bread is none other than the sandwich loaf. To shape the loaf, you need a tin. As usual, Taobao offers you much more attractive prices. The 450g loaf tin which i bought (after trying out a cheaper one) can be had for just 36 Yuan (S$8) Update: apparently the cheaper item is not allowed for overseas sale now, so you might want to try this link instead, and it’s still cheap, at around S$12.

This is a high quality tin that is as non-stick as it gets. There is no need to grease the tin and the bread always slides out of its own. This is different from those tins or moulds which has a thin layer of non-stick powdered coating that isn’t quite non-stick enough. In case you’re wondering, i did the math and estimate that you can save about 25% if you baked your own sandwich loaf vs buying one from the store. The best part is though, you can avoid consuming any food enhancers or additives which are invariably used in commercial bread. Moreover, you can mix and match different types of flour and grains, like whole wheat, aramanth, kamut, spelt, flaxseed meal etc. and reap health benefits.

As baking is becoming quite popular in China, you can find all kinds of baking wares sold on Taobao. There is absolutely no reason to look elsewhere.

Don’t forget to get cashback from Shopback when you buy stuff from Taobao! Though only a small amount, any cashback is better than none!