Weighed down by rain,
the comforting smell of freshly baked bread drifted through the damp air. Both the photographer and I shivered from the cold, but the aroma kindled a warmth inside me, announcing the arrival to our destination: Fukuroku (福禄).
The moment we entered through the charming little door, all the fatigue brought by the rain was dispersed by the warmth of this bakery. There was the hearty sight of bread piled together like mountain ranges, the sugary yeasty smell drifting from the kitchen, and the cheerful greetings of the workers rushing about in preparation to open the bakery. All these sensations brought a smile to my face.
It is from here, at the heart of Fukuroku, that the freshly baked bread sold at Co-op originates. It is also here that we met the lovely owner of Fukuroku, who was generous enough to give us time for an interview despite how busy she was. So busy in fact, that she was simultaneously answering our questions while organizing the bread in preparation for the morning service.
“This bakery you see,” the owner explained as she gently arranged the freshly baked bread into the display, “was established in 1999. This year is our 20th anniversary.”
“I believe APU is celebrating its 20th anniversary next year as well.” I answered as I awkwardly squeezed myself against a wall while workers rushed past me with trays of bread.
“Exactly. APU came about just 1 year after we started this bakery. When APU just started, the Co-op wanted to find a local bakery supplier. You see, apart from the boss of Co-op, all the workers are locals, and when asked about a suitable bakery, they suggested Fukuroku.” The owner looks up from her work and smiles brightly. “So, it was APU that asked us to provide bread, not the other way around.”
I couldn’t help but feel impressed. There was also something satisfying about finally knowing where the bread I look forward to eating every day comes from.
“Although many students love the bread sold at CO-OP, not many know that the bread is from here. This is exactly why we came here, in hopes to introduce more students to the origins of the food they eat.”
“How lovely of you!” The owner thanks us warmly, then diverts her attention as she greets a customer that just entered. In all honesty, Fukuroku doesn’t really need our promotion as it is already so popular with regulars streaming in before the shop’s opening time despite the heavy rain.
“However, students do frequent this bakery quite often. Students from APU of course.” The owner returned to the interview as though there was no interruption at all. “You see, this bakery doesn’t just offer bread, we have an all-you-can-eat lunch service that is extremely popular as well.”
“I’ve noticed!” I nodded enthusiastically as I glanced over at the café area adjacent to the bakery. Even though the tables are not set up yet, I could already feel the cozy atmosphere that this bakery café has to offer. “I haven’t seen many bakeries that come with cafes.”
“That’s true.” The owner reached over the counter and picked up a rustic looking bread as if it came straight out of a Ghibli movie. “You see, the special characteristic of our bread is its density. Traditionally, in Japan we eat rice in ‘washoku’(和食). However, with the influence of the West, eventually a new form of panshoku (パン食) was introduced. Unlike other Japanese bakeries with their light and fluffy bread, we make sure our bread is filling enough to replace the rice in washoku, so Japanese people can still consume a satisfying meal with bread instead of rice.” She lifted the bread up and down, and I could really feel the weight of the bread just by looking.
“I’m guessing that’s why you started this cafe?” I gestured towards the café. “So people can get a feel for eating a full meal with bread instead of rice?”
“In a way.” The owner nodded and gently put the bread down. “But in the end, we make sure the bread is the hero of the meal. We do serve soup, salads, and gratin on the side, but we still want the bread to be the star of the show.”
“I totally agree.” I was going ask more about the café, but I couldn’t help but be curious about the stacks of yellow trays cluttering the café, all of which was of course, filled with bread. “By the way, I was wondering from the moment I walked in, but what are all these trays for?”
“Oh these?” As though on automatic, the owner starts rearranging the piles of bread in the trays as soon as I mention it. “You see, we don’t just sell bread here in the bakery. Just like the bread we sell at Co-op, we also deliver bread to many other places.”
“Like other schools?”
“Schools, kindergartens, hospitals, companies. We even send trucks out that run along a set route, so people can buy our bread without having to come to the bakery
“That’s a lot of bread.” It now makes sense as to why everyone was so busy the moment we arrived in the bakery even though the store wasn’t even open yet. “When do you have to start working in order to make this much bread to sell?”
“Those who make the bread start at 2:30 AM” The owner replied as though it was no big deal, but I couldn’t contain my surprise and gasped.
“I bet a majority of APU students are still awake at that time.”
The owner laughs at my reaction, then after glancing at the clock, she quickly walked back to the counter.
“I’m sorry to say but I need to rush off soon to help out with the deliveries.”
“Of course! Thank you so much for giving us your precious time for this interview.” We thanked her greatly, but right before she was about to leave I had to ask her one last question.
“There’s so many options available…so what bread do you most recommend here for first timers?”
The owner paused and thought seriously for a few seconds before answering.
“The thing with bread is that there are so many varieties, and every individual’s likes and dislikes are different. That’s why the bread we recommend the most is the bread you personally like the most.” She gave us a mischievous smile before rushing off to help with the delivery.
By now, the rain outside has died down to a gentle hush with her words lingering inside my head accompanied by the calming aroma of the bakery. There’s just something very magical about this little bakery that makes you feel at home. We lingered around the bakery a little longer, taking photos and indulging in the sight of the bread before thanking the remaining workers and leaving the comfort of the bakery. The workers sent us off with the same warm hearted smile that they greeted us with when we first arrived, and to our delight, they gave us a bag of bread as a gift. With the bag of delights and the lingering effects of the bakery, the originally depressing rain was now strangely comforting.
Photo:VAN Nguyen Hong An