Based in the Bay Area, WLK is Mikee and Jo — working parents of two loving and kind kids. They love sharing stories and tips at the intersection of work, life and kids.

Our favorite products of the world - Part 1

Our favorite products of the world - Part 1

Part 1 | Part 2

I recently took a walking tour of our home and realized that we actually have a ton of non-US products in our home, perhaps even more so than US products. Wanting to be a little bit more data-driven, I went on a research hiatus to poll my international friends with one simple question, “What consumer product(s) is <country you’re living in> known for?” . As I started to pore through the responses, I narrowed the products to the very top of the list. Those that made the top of he list had some things in common. I like how my good friend, Ricardo, (100% citizen of the world), put it best:

Many of these are traditional industries in that country. But they managed to modernize their brand and technology and still keep the spirit and pride of crafting good products.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list but a great way of appreciating diversity in the world. In no particular order, we’ll start with Germany.

Germany

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It’s known for heirloom quality toys. Toys that will last forever even as they get abused through the generations. ostheimer wooden toys, Bruder true-replica construction vehicles (we have the cat skid loader), playmobil and the very thoughtfully-made Haba toys. For example, this made in Germany wooden clutching toy is a classic. Many of these have made our Top 20 forever toys list for this very same reason.

Some of the most twisted and strategic board games also come from Germans. The trading Settlers of Catan occupied many-a-weekends when we were in our mid-20s. They have now grown to over 10 different varieties of Catan. It doesn’t have to be complicated though, even Bohnanza, the bean-trading game by German game designer, Uwe Rosenberg, requires just as much thinking and strategizing and remains one of our favorites.

In the kitchen, we love the ultra-utilitarian weck jars over any of our other food containers. They stack well and can be used for a myriad of purposes. Growing up in singapore, exposure to Braun started early. From our washing machine to my dad’s fancy shaver to our food processor - All Braun.

The final German submission comes from multiple independent sources. The super sleek Merkur Classic Double Edge Safety Razor. You buy a pack of blades and you’re set up for years. I don’t shave my face but men, read the reviews. I dare you not to be convinced!

Special thanks to Emily!

UK

My memories of growing up in the UK was set in the backdrop of gray and rain, which is why it’s no surprise that the Brits nail the rain in style. Wellies (aka rain boots) come to mind. The most famous brain is of course Hunter (overpriced). Joules is another well-known UK brand that makes cute wellies. Given most days are gloomy over there, it’s no wonder they try to bring the sunshine through their boots. Gotta love the navy raining dogs design. Boots are tall enough for even the deepest puddles - as reported by Emmy!

The world’s best traditional umbrella is also from the UK - James Smith & Sons estd. 1830. If you’re looking for a walking stick for a family member, they have quality options there too.

Barbour has been making quality quilted jackets and parkas for almost 130 years. Not really my style but beloved by Brits. As a member of quite a number of FB moms group, another UK favorite that often pops-up is Boden ($15 off your first order with my referral link). They make great quality jersey dresses that looks good on almost anyone with a stylish kids section to add. The Phoebe dress (with pockets!) is so popular it is released every season in new prints and colors. I snagged my polkadot olive green one for $38 during their end of season sale. They’re also known for modest (bum-covering) yet stylish swimsuits. Stock up during their sales!!

Switzerland

No surprise to anyone but the Swiss make great sharp things. But it’s not just sharp, it’s safe. People get really passionate about their favorite knives so I’ll skip that topic but my favorite favorite swiss-made sharp object is the Rubis Elephant Nail scissors for kids. We were introduced to this by a friend who swore by it with her three kids. Cutting nails have never been easier and safer and I’ve never nicked my kids! It’s a baby shower gift staple for me.

In our kitchen, we have several kuhn rikon items but my favorite is the can opener. It opens the cans that leaves and edge that is completely safe. That’s right, no sharp edges. How do they do it? Are they cutting and making it blunt it at the same time?? Whatever it is? I’m loving it.

My childhood favorite art product is also Swiss-made. The caran d’ache color pencils. With a brush and some water, it magically transforms into water color (see photos here). If you have know a child who is serious about art, the Caran D’ache Fancolor or artist line Aquarelle will transform their world.

Italy

Emmy as pictured here in her black leather patent mary janes

Emmy as pictured here in her black leather patent mary janes

We are so blessed that for a long time, Emmy, was gifted almost-new leather shoes from my friend Kathy. For most of the shoes, I’d never heard of the brands. But they were almost always leather and really well made (real stitching not glued etc). I did a search on the shoes and realize that they were all italian - Naturino and Primigi primarily. Primigi makes classic black mary jane leather shoes for little girls. Naturino has a similar line-up. I pretty much live in two pairs of shoes so I’m not that attuned to grown-up leather shoes but I’m sure the top contenders would be Italian.

I’m not a coffee drinker but I hear serious coffee-drinkers turn to Italy for espresso machines - Gaggia and Illy.

Spain

I grouped Spain with Italy because they’re also known for shoes. Campers have been around for a long time and although i’ve never own one, their distinctive round-toe style made them hard to miss on the streets of Singapore. The Spanish also do summer shoes well. I live in the ultra comfortable and stylish Pons Avarcas leather sandals (size down, they stretch!) and although not my style, espadrilles are almost excsluively spainish.

Turkey

Of all the countries on list, Turkey is by far my favorite country to visit. It was the first stop on our honeymoon, incredible affordable and is a country of amazingly warm people. Loved the culture (ruins) and beautiful sites and beaches. I’m pretty sure I left a part of me in Turkey. Turkey, as far as I know, is known for textiles.

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We don’t use regular towels anymore and have been since converted to Turkish bath towels. They’re not fluffy but they dry so well. Because they’re thin, they stack really well in our tiny linen closet and has many great uses during the summer - blankets, beach mats and even as stylish wraps. They come in fantastic colors and designs but dont get ripped off paying top dollar at some fancy SF hipster boutique. You can get them cheap on Amazon, costco and Etsy (Turkish Dowry is where I buy from). The same can be said about their pashmina scarves (Etsy: Turkish Textile Store). I also found out that they’re known for baseline discount but high-end like clothing like Mavi Jeans (Only $30!). I wore Mavi throughout college but had no idea they were Turkish!

Denmark

When you think of Denmark, you can’t not think of Lego. Thank you for changing our lives (and our feet!) with legos. :) Just this Christmas, we completed the 2000 piece Saturn V with our 4yo. Can’t wait for more Lego adventures. We have been to Legoland Malaysia but if we ever visit Denmark, we’re visiting the mothership and the Lego Inside Tour.

Honorable shout-out to Danish shoemaker, Ecco, because Mikee has… I don’t know… four pairs? His favorite daily is the Jersey Slip on Loafer. Denmark is also well known for silver hollow ware and flatware, so much so that my friend, Erin’s parents actually even received a fellowship to study it in Denmark! You have also probably seen this classic vintage gear, the Dansk kobenstyle in many a pinterest posts. The 4qt casserole is actually not terribly expensive. We’ve been outfitted in some French gear, so not much room for Dansk unfortunately.

France

Most people I know have the Le Creuset dutch oven. When we traveled Europe, we were actually surprised to see Staub make more of an entrance. I actually love its commercial work-horse look. Mauviel cookware has also been around since the 1830s and are known for solid steel cookware.

The husband is a bit of a cookware snob so we have all three - the impressive 6.75qt Le Creuset dutch oven, the smaller 4qt Staub Cocette and the Mauviel 14” frying pan (natural non stick properties). Quick shoutout to Peugeot peppermills as well. Yup, they’re french!

And before we move on from France, everyone knows that the quintessential baby teether, Sophie the giraffe, was born in France right?


Japan

Mikee actually spent a good eight months living in Tsukaba so this is generally more his take than mine. We love Japanese ceramics. They’re beautiful, delicate and thoughtfully made. Every single piece is one of a kind so unfortunately don’t have a brand to recommend. We have… oh too many… so this is a picture of our favorite piece. When you visit Japan, take a visit to the departmental stores like Sogo or Takashimaya to find a myriad to choose from for your Japanese souvenir.

Make a visit to “Kappabashi Street” (Kitchen Town) while you’re in Tokyo to find specialty kitchen items like mini tongs and ice cream shovels. Like the Swiss, they make great knives. The Santouka knife general purposes knife is one of my favorites and originated from Japan. My best friend, Nat, who is currently living in Japan reports that isn’t just one household brand to buy from so I won’t be making a recommendation.

The Zojirushi Family

The Zojirushi Family

We already know the Japanese kill it in the rice-cooker category but what is lesser known is that they’re masters of insulated products. The zojirushi insulated food jars /tumblers are sooo effective it can even cook raw eggs. That’s how I make sure my kids’ hot lunch stays hot by lunch time. If you’re tired of your coffee turning warm, give this sucker a try. You might need it to cool down before you can even take a sip. No joke! Our kids use the 11oz food jars and I use the 17oz jar. Tiger is another japanese manufacturer or rice cookers but my favorite item is the Tiger vacuum-insulted non-electric thermal cooker. It’s quite brilliant actually - you heat up the ingredients on the stove and then get it locked into a “jacket” which will keep the pot hot for hours as it continues to cook. If you’re freaked out about leaving appliances plugged in when not at home, the thermal cooker is perfect for you. Because it is also leak proof, it is also my number 1 choice for transporting food for potlucks.

The Japanese also have an obsession with stationery. You can browse the many brands and selections one of my favorite pen shops, Tokyo Pen Shop. I have so many favorite pens but my current favorite is the Pilot Bravo Marker Pen. It writes like a sharpie, without the smell and with a lot more smoothness. Since I spend half my life working with post-its, this is actually the perfect marker pen for it.

Part 2 has also been completed! I cover countries like Australia, Belize, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland and many more. Check is out here!

WLK receives a small commission on some purchases through posts. No pressure, though.


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Best products of the world - Part 2

Best products of the world - Part 2

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Two takes on red lentil soup