Community Interviews- Oka's Bakery and Café
August 26, 2016 | 0 Comment
Standing at 170cm tall, one would hesitate to call her a towering figure. However, if stature was measured in hard work, kindness, and influence, Ibu Oka would easily be considered a giant within the Canggu community. Oka has succeeded in creating many jobs and has supported the local community as the first female business owner and English speaker, in Canggu. By combining her passion and talent for food, vegan and gluten free items that were once considered a luxury, are now readily available to the public at a bargain. Anyone that’s ever driven down Canggu’s main road, Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong, has passed Oka’s Bakery and Cafe, marveled at its beautifully modern steel and glass construction, or gazed jealously at the relaxed faces enjoying a selection from Oka’s gourmet menu.
Upon walking into the bakery, one encounters more than the warm aromas of cinnamon, espresso and freshly baked bread. Visitors are often met and welcomed by her kind smile, accompanied by a symphony of sounds and aromas that tease the senses. A quick survey around the bakery and café reveals a treasure trove of incredible healthy snacks, home made desserts, seasonal fruits, home pressed juices and a myriad of other organic groceries that will make any health nut’s head spin. Without having to sacrifice nutrition to satisfy that sweet tooth, one hardly knows where to start! Oka’s signature Toro-Toro balls are made fresh daily from a mouth watering mix of dates, fruits, nuts and can often be found at local yoga retreats.
No bakery would be complete without the usual selection of rolls, baguette and pastries. However, Oka takes it a few steps further. A generous selection of gluten free breads, including hamburger buns and charcoal rolls line the windows. In each corner, shelves are stocked high with canned goods, spices, organic fruits and veggies, home made muesli, locally sourced honey, dried goji berries, cold pressed juices and more. The list goes on and on.
The upstairs seating area reveals another equally pleasant surprise.
The Feng Shui of the space can be attributed to the unique collective of modern and traditional Balinese furniture. A long bar spaning the length of the room overlooks the café below, offering a view of the bustling street below. In the evenings, the final rays of the setting sun float in, carrying the scent of ocean air and fresh bread, causing the multicolored lanterns and hanging incandescent bulbs to sway gracefully in the breeze. One could easily sit here all day; sampling morsels of vegan brownies and gluten free pastries, drinking home pressed carrot and ginger juice while devouring a good book.
But it wasn’t always this way.
More than 25 years ago, a much younger but no less determined Oka began work at a restaurant called ‘Sea breeze’ located in Kuta. It was here, at the age of 15, that she began to learn English, as well as gain vital experience regarding baking and the hospitality industry. When she married, with the support of her now-late husband, she was able to open a café in Legian called Milo Café. After their contract ended 10 years later, Oka and her family packed up and moved to start another business in Echo Beach seasoned with 10 years of hospitality experience.
When Oka’s parents passed, she convinced her husband to help her find a manager for the Echo beach restaurant and chose to focus more of her time on what she calls ‘market’ items at the bakery and cafe. When asked about some of the challenges that local business owners, such as Oka’s Bakery and Café, face she responded with one word. “Competition. Right now, there is big competition in Canggu. Everyone has to live. But it comes down to how smart and patient you are. Business is a gamble. But it’s about what you have up here and here.” Oka points to her head and then heart.
Much of the inspiration that Oka draws upon are a result of experiences gained through travel. When reflecting back on some of the places she has been, Australia in particular stands out. After 18 days of traveling around Perth, she and her now-late husband returned to Canggu bursting full of new ideas for food recipes, interior design and architecture. Always one to welcome constructive criticism and suggestions, Oka also credits many of the recipes to the many fitness/nutrition gurus and yogis that frequent her shop.
“It’s a give and take,” she says. “They share ideas with me
and so I share with them to say thank you because I learn from them.”
Completely self educated in regards to cooking healthy foods, vegan recipes and gluten free baking, Oka saw a natural solution to treating her daughter who was born with Down’s syndrome. With her doctor’s encouragement, Oka began implementing more and more gluten free recipes and overall healthier eating habits into her daughters regiment. “I’m seeing less mood swings. She seems to be acting more social. She seems happier.” Despite the demanding challenges that accompany raising a child with Down’s Syndrome, Oka’s settled comfortably into a healthy balance between her family, the bakery and her religious duties.
“It wasn’t always easy,” she explains. “In Bali, there must be balance between our social jobs and business. We cannot just make money; we must participate in the community ceremonies in the village and in the temple.” Her dream is to travel to Europe one day. But her commitments to the village and to her business make it difficult to leave for more than a month. “There are too many ceremony days to miss being away for that long,” she exclaimed. “We have to respect our culture. Its very important.”
As one of the longest living resident in Canggu, Oka has seen more change in this village than any other business owner; her influence and wealth of knowledge spanning far beyond the perfect gluten free recipe. As I sat devouring decadent morsels of her famous avocado brownies, she was kind enough to share some insight into the changes that made Canggu into what it is today.
“Even 5 years ago, Canggu was just a small village of rice farmers and fisherman. Now, there are so many villas and the rice fields are disappearing.” She expressed her concern at the rapid pace of development and fears that if Canggu continues to develop at this unsustainable rate, the village will completely lose its local feel and begin to resemble cities such as Kuta and Seminyak. Oka went on to share what a precious place Bali is for her. After visiting countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, Oka proudly commented, “I’m very glad with our island. Living in Bali, you never get bored. Wherever you go, you have so many interesting things; temples and landscapes. There are so many different people. We are all Balinese but we have many different dialects. We are very unique and glad for that.”
For many Balinese, the chance to travel outside the island, let alone country, does not come easy.
“I like to travel.
If you just stay in Bali. It’s like living in a coconut shell. We have to open our minds.
We always have to keep educating ourselves; never stopping until we close our eyes.”
Oka is a dreamer with an open mind. Her dream is to always keep improving. Above all, she values her client’s critics on how to make her products better. One day, she hopes that the next generation, maybe her sons, will take her ideas and dreams even further than she ever imagined.
All in all; Oka’s Bakery and Café has something to offer everyone from the nutritiously conscious foodie to those on a guilt free tastebud vacation.
♦ Oka’s Bakery and Café ♦
Open daily from 7:00am to 11:00pm
Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong #27 Canggu, Bali
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