Korean Beauty Believer

Six years ago (wow, six whole years), one of my first blog posts was about cosmetic products for sensitive skin. After living in Asia for several years, I was introduced to the world of Korean beauty aka. K-Beauty. Korean skincare is extremely affordable and since it is a lucrative business, Korean companies really invest a lot in the latest cutting-edge technology. Thanks to companies like Soko Glam, Memebox, and Peach & Lily, we can finally access K-Beauty in the U.S. In this post, I’ll talk about the 8-step Korean skincare process and also share my favorite products (full disclosure: it’s not all Korean brands). Major thanks to my friend, Ingrid, who is a fellow cosmetics lover and introduced me to many of the non-Korean products.

Before I forget, here’s my referral link for Soko Glam. You get 20% off your first order and I get a $10 credit if you order anything. I have a serious K-Beauty addiction so anything that you can do to help feed it would be appreciated!

I have really sensitive skin and used to use Shiseido exclusively. My skincare routine was becoming too expensive and I had been on it for years. I heard it’s good to change up your products because your skin gets “used to” cosmetics when you use them for a long duration of time. This is when I started experimenting more with Korean beauty brands.

Koreans have a CRAZY 8-step routine:
Step 1: Solid, Oil-based cleanser
Step 2: Water-based cleanser
Step 3: Toner
Step 4: Essence
Step 5: Serum
Step 6: Eye Cream
Step 7: Face Cream
Step 8: Masks/Sleeping Packs

Additional steps:
– Exfoliating
– Sunscreen during the day

I probably do 7-8 of these steps daily, depending on my skincare needs. I’ll share the products that I really love and add a * to products that I can’t live without.

Step 1: Solid, Oil-based Cleanser
Koreans believe in double-cleansing. They first use an oil-based cleanser to take off make-up, sunscreen, etc. and then a water-based cleanser to remove any other impurities. When I first heard it, I thought it was a little excessive and may dry out my skin. Once I tried it, I was a believer. The oil-based cleanser actually nourishes my skin, not dries it out, and I use a gentle foam cleanser. My skin feels SO clean after double-cleansing and it’s finally ready to absorb Korean cosmetic good-ness.

I use a muslin cloth to wash off the oil-based cleanser. The Eve Lom ones are probably the most famous: http://www.sephora.com/3-muslin-cloths-P381435


1. Clinque Take the Day Off Balm*
– This product is fantastic and is a solid that melts when you start rubbing it into your face. It really removes make-up and sunscreen well.

Organic Pharmacy
2. The Organic Pharmacy Carrot Butter Cleanser*
– This is the ultimate holy grail in cleansers. It’s really expensive so I definitely do not use this daily. This is like a special occasion cleanser. I usually massage into my face, rinse my Eve Lom muslin cloth in extremely hot water, and then let it sit on my face like mini aromatherapy.

Banila Co
3. Banila Co Clean It Zero Classic
– This is the most famous oil-based cleanser in Korea. The pink one is the original formula and they came out with a blue one, purity (https://sokoglam.com/products/banila-co-clean-it-zero-purity), which is for sensitive skin. It’s less of a solid compared to Clinique and Organic Pharmacy.

4. Erborian Solid Cleansing Oil
– I haven’t personally used this one, but I do like the brand Erborian and trust them. I have friends who use this product and like it. I mostly end up using the Clinique one because I like it and I pick it up in Duty Free Shopping when I travel.

Step 2: Water-based cleanser
Neogen Foam
1. Neogen Real Fresh Foam Cleanser*
– I love Neogen’s foam cleanser. It’s actually foams up when you pump it out and is super gentle. If you have sensitive skin, I recommend the green tea one: https://sokoglam.com/products/neogen-real-fresh-foaming-cleanser. Sometimes the cranberry is sold out so I use the green tea one.

Fresh Soy Face
2. Fresh Soy Face Cleanser
– I love this gel cleanser. It’s also really gentle. I actually love Fresh’s line, but it’s more expensive and so I tend to only buy if there’s a sale.

Step 3: Toner
Toner is supposed to help balance out the pH level in your skin. This is honestly where I think the 8-step Korean process goes a little overboard since you’re supposed to use essence afterward. I personally think it’s a little too much, so I stick more with the essence.

May Coop
1. May Coop Raw Sauce*
– May Coop Raw Sauce is a toner + essence in one. I’m a big fan of cutting down a step so I use this in my nightly routine. The consistency is thicker, almost sap-like, but it’s not terribly sticky. I really like how this feels on my skin and with the thicker consistency, I feel like it’s actually being absorbed. The first couple of times, my skin actually tingled while using it. To the point where I thought it might be too harsh for my face. But after a couple of uses, my skin adapted and it doesn’t sting anymore.

Son Park
2. Son & Park Beauty Water
– If you are looking for a toner, the Son & Park Beauty Water always gets stellar reviews. I’ve never used it myself.

Step 4: Essence
Essence helps prepare your skin so it can absorb the next step, serum. I do believe in this step and wait about 5 minutes before applying serum afterward.Missha Essence
1. Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence
– Have you heard of the brand SK-II? It’s the holy grail of essence and uses an ingredient from sake called pitera. I’ve used SK-II before, but I didn’t really see a huge difference, especially for how expensive it is. It’s like $230 for a bottle! Missha’s essence is a great, cheaper alternative to SK-II. It’s a liquid so I just pour some on my hands and then directly pat onto my face. I prefer this over using a cotton pad because I feel like the cotton pad just soaks up all the liquid and it gets wasted.

I switch between Missha and May Coop Raw Sauce, usually based on who is having a sale!
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Battle of the SF Bakeries: Neighbor Bakehouse, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse and b. patisserie

Baked Goods at Neighbor Bakehouse | SF

Top Left (clockwise): Twice-Baked Pistachio & Blackberry Croissant, Ginger Pull Apart, Ham and Cheese Morning Bun and the Everything Croissant at Neighbor Bakehouse

San Francisco is full of amazing bakeries (hello, Tartine), but I wanted to write about three well-known ones: 1) Neighbor Bakehouse, 2) Mr. Holmes Bakehouse and 3) b. patisserie.

Hands down, Neighbor Bakehouse (2343 3rd St #100) wins for best croissant in SF. Located in the Dogpatch, Neighbor Bakehouse has the best croissant dough I’ve tasted outside of Paris. Their dough is buttery and flaky, not heavy or waxy. When you take a bite into a fresh croissant, there’s an audible crunch! It’s no wonder that practically all their pastries are made out of this dough. I’ve literally tried their entire menu and have ranked it for you.

  1. Everything Croissant. Their most famous croissant is a must order. Their croissant is filled with cream cheese and chives and the filling is generous, not a tiny sliver. They then top it with everything bagel seasoning: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic and onion flakes. It’s the best of an everything bagel in a croissant.
  2. Sauerkraut Smoked Cheddar Peppadew Tart. Don’t get confused by the term “tart.” It’s basically a hand pie in croissant dough. While the thought of sauerkraut in a savory hand pie may turn you off, give it a chance. Their sauerkraut isn’t very sour and this tart is filled with cheese and piquanté peppers. I love the contrast of the sweetness of the peppers with the brine of the sauerkraut. This is one pastry not to miss.
  3. Cinnamon Almond Bostock. I didn’t know what a bostock was when I ordered it. Now, I know it’s day-old brioche topped with almond frangipane. I freaking love frangipane and all things marzipan and this cinnamon almond bostock tastes like custard French toast filled with almond paste. It’s one of the few items in the baked goods section that isn’t made out of croissant dough and I love it.
  4. Ginger Pull-Apart. Giant croissant dough ball brushed with a bright ginger syrup. Pull apart with your fingers and enjoy!

Things I did not enjoy at Neighbor Bakehouse. Don’t waste your wallet or waistline on these because I’ve already done the work for you:

  • Twice-Baked Croissant. I’ve tried two flavors and have not been impressed with either. The pistachio and blackberry didn’t have much pistachio or blackberry flavoring and the croissant becomes denser and flat.
  • Doughp Buns. I’ve had both the chocolate and passionfruit doughp buns. The fillings were tasty, but the ratio of bun to filling was too high. These were also really dense and did nothing for me. I ended up scraping out the sweet nectar of the filling and tossing the buns.
  • Apple Hand Pie and Guava & Cheese Pastelito. Both are these are basically turnovers. Unfortunately, I don’t like the dough. Unlike the croissant dough, their turnover dough isn’t flaky and doesn’t have a ton of flavor. I was really disappointed that the apple hand pie didn’t have a stronger apple and cinnamon flavor.
  • Smoked Fish Cream Cheese Croissant. A croissant filled with salmon cream cheese and topped with sesame seeds. While not bad, the everything croissant is so much better. There’s not enough salmon in the filling and the everything croissant is more flavorful thanks to the garlic and onion flakes.
  • Ham and Cheese Morning Bun. Again, not a bad pastry, but it’s definitely very heavy between the ham, cheese and all the butter in the croissant dough. It’s very one-dimensional. You’re much better off getting the sauerkraut tart.
Pina Colada Cruffin at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse | SF

Pina Colada Cruffin at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

I can wax on about Neighbor Bakehouse, but I think it’s only fair to compare it to Mr. Holmes Bakehouse (1042 Larkin St.), which is infamous for their cruffin. Marketed as a “croissant muffin,” the flavors change daily and are posted on their Instagram account. Mr. Holmes Bakehouse often runs out of cruffins by 10am and they limit how many each person can buy (2/person). The day that I went, I stood in line for the pina colada cruffin. I was impressed with how much cream was filled inside. However, the cruffin was a total letdown. While I actually really enjoyed the cream and could tell it was high quality, there was zero coconut or pina colada flavoring. The only coconut flavors came from the macaroon and it definitely wasn’t reminiscent of a pina colada. I’d be curious to try a different flavor because I think the cruffin has potential.

I did also order the churro croissant and it’s a croissant filled with dulce de leche cream and topped with cinnamon sugar. Considering how good their cream filling is and how much I love churros, this was quite delicious. I also enjoyed Mr. Holmes Bakehouse take on a savory croissant, the California croissant. This croissant is filled with smoked salmon, pickled ginger, wasabi and nori and then topped with more seaweed and sesame seeds. When I bit into it, I was not expecting a big piece of salmon and I loved the combination with the pickled ginger. It even comes with a packet of soy sauce, which I don’t think is needed.

I tried SO many pastries at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. I really wanted to love them and I just couldn’t. The croissant dough at Neighbor Bakehouse is definitely superior. Items at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse that I do not recommend:

  • Matcha Croissant. How disappointing. I love green tea and this croissant has no green tea flavor. It’s dipped half in a white chocolate coating and so just tastes like waxy white chocolate.
  • Apple Pie Pull-Apart. This is not a pull-apart, people. This is similar to a dense bread pudding. While I actually enjoyed the apple, cinnamon flavors (and raisins), I think the ginger pull-apart at Neighbor Bakehouse is better.
  • Filled Donut. Bah, the fillings are good (again, they rock at that cream filling) but the donuts are oily and dense.
  • Cornflake Cookie. This is advertised as a brown butter toffee, cornflake cereal cookie. There is no brown butter taste and not enough toffee. The brown butter cookies at Bi-Rite are better.
Kouign Amann at b. patisserie | SF

Kouign Amann at b. patisserie

b. patisserie (2821 California St.) has been on my list forever because I’ve been dying to try their kouign amann. Kouign amann is a pastry originally hailing from Brittany. It’s basically a caramelized croissant with a beautiful sugar crust on top. I totally understand the hype at b. patisserie. When I cut into the kouign amann, it could hear the crunch of all the crispy flakiness. Even cut, I could see layers upon layers of beautiful buttery goodness. The sugar crust on top adds a perfect amount of sweetness. It is worth going to b. patisserie just for the kouign amann. The only other item that I tried was the passionfruit poppyseed madeleine, which I also really enjoyed. Their tarts look absolutely divine and I’ll definitely have to make another trip soon!

Eating My Way Through Vancouver, Canada

Kitsilano Beach | Vancouver

Kitsilano Beach

I can’t even begin to extol the virtues of visiting the Pacific Northwest when it is not raining. With all the rain throughout the year, cities like Vancouver really blossom when the sun shines and all the plants are green and lush. If it was like that all year, I think everyone would want to live there!

Coconut Ash and S'Mores Ice Cream at Mister | Vancouver

Coconut Ash and S’Mores Ice Cream at Mister

Besides the proximity to nature (the beach is in the center of town and the mountains are 30 minutes away), Vancouver is bustling with an amazing food scene. I could live there for a month and I wouldn’t make the slightest dent on my things-to-eat list. I did my best in a short amount of time. For novelty ice cream, look no further than the liquid nitrogen treats at Mister (1141 Mainland St.). Their most famous flavor is the coconut ash, which complements the black ice cream cones, but I actually like and recommend the crème brûlée (complete with a crackable sugar top) or s’mores (toasted marshmallow!) more. If you get your ice cream in their signature black cone, expect a massive amount of ice cream. It’s enough to share among 3 people (seriously). Flavors change daily so there’s always a surprise in store.

Lunch at Fable (left) and Ice Cream at Rain or Shine (right) | Vancouver

Lunch at Fable (left) and Ice Cream at Rain or Shine (right)

If you’re looking for a more traditional ice cream experience, head over to Rain or Shine (1926 W 4th Ave #102), close by Kitsilano beach. You can indulge in flavors like coffee toffee and salted caramel. Right next to Rain or Shine, you can grab a bite to eat at Fable (1944 W 4th Ave.). They have one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever tasted (thick-cut bacon and cheese are extra) or you can eat more healthy with local British Columbia salmon and kale.

Granville Public Market | Vancouver

Granville Public Market

Speaking of local salmon, BC salmon is absolutely incredible. Darker and redder in color, the flesh is flaky and ever so creamy with all the rich fish oil. My first stop in Vancouver was the Granville Island Public Market (1669 Johnston St.). The whole island is full of cute boutiques and small art galleries. The highlight is definitely the public market where there is a plethora of lunch choices at different stalls. I had to order the deep-fried salmon and calamari at Celine’s Fish & Chips. It was the first time in my life I’ve ever seen fish and chips with salmon and now that’s all I ever want to eat.

Aburi Sushi at Minami | Vancouver

Aburi Sushi at Minami

When in Vancouver, you have to eat sushi. With fish that fresh, it’d be a travesty if you didn’t. At Minami (1118 Mainland St.), you can try the famed aburi sushi. This flame-seared sushi has an extra touch of magic because the chefs sear the fish with binchotan (Japanese bamboo charcoal). I’d never seen anything like it before in my life! That extra bit of charcoal adds a whole new level of smokiness and complexity to your palate. The salmon oshi sushi (pressed BC wild salmon, jalapeno, Miku sauce) is hands down probably one of my favorite bites of food. Don’t miss out though on the tuna tartare, ebi fritters or Champagne roll (scallop, salmon, cucumber, uni, rolled in golden tobiko, Miku sauce).

Loco-Lomi Poke Salad at the Poke Guy | Vancouver

Loco-Lomi Poke Salad at the Poke Guy

I seriously cannot think of a better place to sell poke than Vancouver. At The Poke Guy (420 Richards St.), you’ll find local Hawaiians (shout-out to Reno!) serving poke with a twist, including toppings like mango and corn. One of their star dishes is the Loco-Lomi salad. Reno was great at explaining that lomi-lomi is a salmon salad with tomatoes and Maui onions. Their salad has smoked lomi-lomi, albacore poke, avocado, house yuzu slaw, kani, mango, peashoots, masago, crispy onion and furikake on a bed of lettuce. While I also loved the Poke Guy’s traditional poke, the loco-lomi salad is definitely unique and worth trying.

Cartems Donuterie | Vancouver

Cartems Donuterie

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Shanghai: Jackie’s 50 Things to Eat Before You Die

Jia Jia Tang Bao: Pork and Egg Dumplings

Jia Jia Tang Bao: Pork and Egg Dumplings

First Thai Boat Noodle

First Thai Boat Noodle

Goga's Wasabi Salmon Salad

Goga’s Wasabi Salmon Salad

Salted Caramel Ice Cream at WIYF

Salted Caramel Ice Cream at WIYF

I find it incredibly hard to believe that I’ve been living in Shanghai for the past three years. I know it’s terribly cliché, but it seriously passed by in the blink of an eye. I’ve always wanted to live and work in Shanghai and it was my ultimate goal post-MBA. I’m incredibly happy and grateful for the experience and will miss this city. After being abroad for four years, I’m heading back to the U.S. and returning to the Bay Area.

Spread at Wai Po Jia

Spread at Wai Po Jia 外婆家

Japanese Style Rice at Ri He 日和

Japanese Style Rice at Ri He 日和

Gentleman Caller Roast Beef Sandwich at Madison Kitchen

Gentleman Caller Roast Beef Sandwich at Madison Kitchen

The Commune Social's Peanut Butter Dessert

The Commune Social’s Peanut Butter Dessert

The food scene in Shanghai is intense and it’s always changing. Due to the competitive restaurant industry (and also changing city laws), places are constantly opening and closing. Despite living here for several years, I feel like I only barely scratched the surface. Before leaving a city, I try and create a food guide, much like my 100 Things to Eat in San Francisco Before You Die, 50 Things to Eat in Paris Before You Die and 25 Things to Eat in Hong Kong Before You Die. In continuing with the tradition, I drafted a list for Shanghai.

In no particular order, I present to you:

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Shanghai: Mr & Mrs Bund



Paul Pairet’s Mr & Mrs Bund is one of the most buzzed about restaurants in Shanghai. After being in Shanghai scene for over 7 years, they renovated the restaurant last year and it’s was definitely a welcome update to the old red and green scheme. With over 200 offerings on the menu, it’s definitely overwhelming to order. Not everything is a hit, but there are some standout dishes. This post basically summarizes three different meals that I had.

Foie Gras Mousse

Foie Gras Mousse

Seared Foie Gras with Pomelo

Seared Foie Gras with Pomelo

My mother and I love foie gras and can’t resist it when it’s on the menu. She ordered the foie gras mousse and I ordered the seared foie gras with pomelo. Out of the two foie gras dishes, I actually enjoyed the foie gras mousse more. Nothing was wrong with my plump and rich seared foie gras. It was cooked perfectly with a nice caramelization and the citrus from the pomelo helped cut the fattiness. But the foie gras mousse was unique and definitely a highlight. The mousse is cold and smooth and topped with a raisin and hazelnut crumble. You mix everything together and I really loved the contrast of the crunchy granola with the creamy foie gras. It’s very easy to slather it all over the bread and granny smith apple slices.

Black Code Truffle New Meurniere

Black Cod Truffle New Meurniere

Pork Chop

Pork Chop

For our mains, I ordered the black cod truffle new meurniere and my mother ordered the pork chop. The pork chop was disappointing and wouldn’t need to be ordered again. While it was tender, it was really lacking flavor and needed some salt and pepper. We weren’t huge fans of the caper sauce that accompanied it. While the pork was meh, the black cod was mind-blowing. The fish is flaky and cooked perfectly on top of Paul Pairet’s delicious mashed potatoes (full of butter). What makes the dish is the sauce. The creamy truffle sauce came on the side and it’s fragrant without being overwhelming. The extra sauce came in handy to pour over the tasteless pork chop.

Mr and Mrs Bund Classics

Mr and Mrs Bund Classics

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Discovering China: Yangshuo

River Cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo

River Cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo

Located in the south of China, Yangshuo is just a beacon of beauty with gorgeous mountains ranges and flowing rivers. Besides visiting Beijing and Xi’An, Yangshuo is now going to be at the top of my list when I recommend places to visit in China. It was such a nice break to leave city life in Shanghai and escape into nature.

Guilin River Cruise

Guilin River Cruise- Clouds

Nine Horse Mountain

River Cruise

Boats River Cruise

As I mentioned in my Guilin post, the top thing that you have to do is take the Li River Cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo. This 5+ hour tour gives you a once in a lifetime view of China’s most breathtaking scenery. It’s so iconic that it’s even on the back of the 20RMB bill! I can see how this has been the inspiration for so many artists to paint and draw on long scrolls. The cruise takes you to a port that is about at 15-20 minute walk away from Xi Jie 西街 (West Street), which is basically Yangshuo’s downtown.

Yangshuo's Busy West Street

Yangshuo’s Busy West Street

Silver Cave

Silver Cave

Silver Cave Wall

Yangshuo’s most famous cave is Silver Cave. Although it is larger than Guilin’s Reed Flute Cave, I actually prefer Reed Flute. I felt that the lighting in Reed Flute Cave was done better and it was more impressive. So if see Reed Flute Cave, then you can pass on visiting Silver Cave.

Sunrise in Yangshuo

Sunrise in Yangshuo

Yangshuo Banyan Tree

Banyan Tree

Close-Up of the Banyan Tree

Close-Up of the Banyan Tree

Moon Hill

Moon Hill

Jiu Xian Village

Jiu Xian Village

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