Chiu Dai-yu’s (邱岱玉) first foray into Taipei’s baked goods market in 1995 fell as flat as a German flammkuchen. Consumers weren’t ready for the taste and texture of high-end European bread.
“Customers would return the bread and say there is something wrong with it — the sourdough rye, for example, is too sour,” said Chiu, who lived and worked in Germany for several years.
The bakery closed. Unwilling to abandon her dream and gambling that tastes were changing, Chiu opened Oma Ursel’s German Bakery in 1999. Twelve years later and with three branches and a German restaurant to her name, Chiu says she “no longer worries that people will return our bread because they think it’s strange.”
Chiu says her bakeries grew steadily before they “took off like a plane” three years ago.
In addition to Wendel’s German Bakery and Bistro, which opened its fifth branch a few weeks back, Taipei has seen French bakery chain Paul open two locations in the capital city since 2008.
Lalos, a French bakery part-owned by renowned chef Frederic Lalos, opened its first branch outside of Paris at Taipei 101 in October, and Oma Ursel’s German Bakery and six-year-old Boite de Bijou (珠寶盒法式點心坊) plan to open more branches in the capital next year.
And then there are the dozens of European-style bakeries and patisseries that have opened in hotels and shopping malls across the capital.
“The Taiwanese are traveling a lot and are very open-minded when it comes to trying different food — just look at all the different restaurants in Taipei right now that have flavors from all over the world,” said Patti Ho (何孟澔), chief operating officer of the company that runs Lalos.
“Bakeries are part of this trend,” she said.
Oma Ursel’s German Bakery: www.oma.ecdiy.com.tw
Boite de bijou: www.boitedebijou.com.tw
Lalos: zh-tw.facebook. com/pages/LALOS-Bakery/154393194648178
Wendel’s German Bakery and Bistro: www.wendels-bakery.com
While these bakeries are changing eating habits, growing consumer demand is changing the way bakeries run their business.
All in good taste
Mention of Taiwanese bakeries used to bring to mind sickly sweet white bread, or buns stuffed with limp vegetables, all manner of processed meat, lashings of mayonnaise (or salad sauce, 沙拉醬) and greasy cheese.
No longer. European bread, with its higher whole wheat and whole grain content, is firmer than the starchier, softer and ultimately less healthy varieties. More whole wheat content means more fiber, protein, minerals and vitamins.
Whereas Chiu used to spend time convincing her customers of her bread’s healthful properties, today she finds customers trying to educate her.
“Consumers have become far more savvy,” she said.
Citing fiber as an example, Chiu said it is common for her customers to ask detailed questions about how much of it individual breads contain.
“Those concerned about diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease are especially fiber-conscious,” she said.
A study published last month by the Division of Sports and Cardiovascular Nutrition at Michigan State University in the US found that teenagers raised on high-fiber diets are less likely to have risk factors associated with those diseases. And as waist sizes expand, a high-fiber diet is becoming more important in combating obesity, the study reported.
But whole wheat bread in Taiwan might not be as healthful as customers think as labeling standards set by the Department of Health are not as strict as those in Europe.
“The standard in Germany is 100 percent. You cannot say that it’s whole wheat bread unless it’s 100 percent whole wheat. In Taiwan, it only has to contain 28 percent,” Chiu said.