November 22, 2004 (STAR) By Joseph O. Cortes - Bread, like rice, is a staple of Filipino diets. When we wake up in the morning, trust the quotidian pandesal to be on the dining table. For recess, any school kid would probably reach for a sandwich inside his lunch box. On weekends when the family goes out, a stop at a burger joint is part of the routine.

That’s why it isn’t surprising that the jury is still out on BreadTalk, the Singaporean boutique bakery franchise that has revolutionized the way many local diners look at bread.

Winward Chu, managing director of BreadTalk Philippines Inc., which is the licensed franchisee in the country, says his family discovered BreadTalk’s breads in 2001-2002 during their frequent visits to Singapore.

"We are on the look out for new things and new tastes all the time," Chu said. "We’ve never tried anything like BreadTalk."

BreadTalk opened in Singapore in 2000 with a revolutionary take on the bread industry. It has close to 200 varieties of breads, and prides itself on unique product names and personalities that echo fun and irreverence. This is partnered with festive and creative advertising and sleek and modern interior designs.

Contemporary Western concepts blend with Eastern designs, creating a unique BreadTalk identity. Its trademark open kitchen concept allows customers to view the entire baking process from raw ingredients to finished products, assuring customers of freshly baked bread the whole day.

Chu says the blend of east and west makes BreadTalk’s breads special.

"It’s a fusion of Danish and sweet breads and something like ham and curried chicken. That makes it very Asian," he explains. "There’s a lot of Asian and traditional things in these breads at the same time."

Many of the store’s breads have signature names that describe them. The Flosss, BreadTalk’s signature item, is a soft, sweetish bun that has been generously topped with a choice of pork, spicy pork or chicken floss. A bite on the pork Flosss is like biting into an adobo bun, except that the filling is on the outside. Mr. Beans is like a bread version of red mongo hopia, while Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bacon is exactly that, a bacon and cheese-filled bun. Earthquake Cheese is a cheese-filled loaf with bread the consistency of brioche. (Incidentally, it was named by a baker in Taiwan in honor of an earthquake that devastated half the country. He finished baking the bread just as the earthquake happened.) And those are just some of the breads I remember.

Chu believes the local market is ready for BreadTalk. "Filipinos are often traditional when it comes to bread. When they talk of bread, they think of pandesal. However, the opening of bread shops offering European bread varieties, like croissants and Danishes, changed all that," he says.

BreadTalk continually rolls out new bread varieties, and its franchisees around the world are encouraged to produce breads that reflect the country’s culture. Many of the new bread varieties are sent to R&D centers in Singapore, Taiwan and Japan for standardization and approval.

The Philippines already has a couple of its own savory bread varieties, such as the sisig, chicken teriyaki and beefy buns. A sweet bread variety is the Double Trouble. Think of an éclair with custard filling, but instead of puff pastry substitute a soft bun. Then dip both ends of the bread in chocolate. It is also double the calories.

Those who want something plainer may choose from a number of vegetarian bread varieties. There are breads with and without eggs and a vegetarian pizza, while Asian breads, like naan, are also available. Those who want something subtle should try the Popeye Toast, which is filled with spinach.

"That’s what BreadTalk is all about," Chu adds. "We promise you’ll find something you like here."

To assure customers of freshly baked bread, all BreadTalk stores have shifts. At the Rockwell store, bakers have two shifts, while at Glorietta 4 three.

All breads are kept on the shelves for just a day. At the end of business hours, all unsold bread are disposed of. However, Chu said that doesn’t mean BreadTalk breads are only good for one day.

"If you keep our bread in their wrapper, they stay soft. As a rule, our breads are good for up to three days," he explains.

When BreadTalk opens its branch at SM Megamall later this month or in early December, it will be introducing its own version of the pandesal and other Pinoy bread varieties. When that happens, BreadTalk will find its niche among a wider group of Filipino bread eaters.

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BreadTalk has branches at Glorietta 4, Ayala Center and at the Power Plant Mall, Rockwell Center.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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