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French baker finds love, home in Zhuhai

Chinese, foreigners alike flock to Papa Romantic for tasty bread

By Zheng Caixiong in Guangzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-15 07:11

Frenchman Ronan Salaun (right) runs the Papa Romantic bakery together with his wife, Zhong Bozi, in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A French bakery has become a tourist attraction in Nanping township, which is part of Zhuhai, a coastal city in Guangdong province.

Papa Romantic, located in Beishan community, attracts a large number of Chinese and foreigners alike. After tasting the bakery's bread, some Chinese students who have returned from abroad have expressed admiration, while foreigners who lived in Zhuhai but moved to other Chinese cities such as Beijing continue to have bread and pastries from the shop shipped to them.

The bakery is a welcoming environment for those who want to sit and enjoy authentic French cuisine.

On one side is a well-preserved old ancestral hall, and on the other side are lush trees that provide shade from the sun. The shop has a bright storefront, and the aroma of the bread, the aluminum tables and the chairs under sun umbrellas exude a tranquil atmosphere away from the hustle and bustle.

At Papa Romantic, the best-selling items include baguettes, croissants, sandwiches, crepes and cookies. In addition, some unique treats such as fig bread and colorful macrons are also popular among young customers.

Owner and baker Ronan Salaun, who comes from the Brittany region of France, said the ingredients at his bakery are imported, and he refuses to use chemicals or additives in his food.

Whenever his friends return to France, they know they need to bring him some crystal salt from a natural salt pond in France. The black pepper he uses comes from Madagascar.

"Simple things are important, and the quality of salt and pepper makes a big difference," Salaun said.

While remaining true to his French roots, he has also taken into consideration the dietary habits of Chinese people.

"Chinese locals prefer soft crust bread, while French like the crusty one. I sell both kinds. I can't just maintain the original characteristics; I must adapt to locals' preferences," he said.

"For me, food is an art, and making food is not just a means of making a living, but also a moment of enjoyment," he said.

A former mechanical engineer, Salaun was sent by a Hong Kong company to work at a furniture factory in Wanzai township, Zhuhai, in November 2000. He said he couldn't have imagined how much his life would change with that move.

At that time, Wanzai was a tiny town bordering Macao known for its flower trade.

For Salaun, life in Wanzai seemed simple and rustic. He remembers that when he wanted to take a bath, he had to heat the water up with firewood and then transport the water in a bucket to the bathtub.

Although the living and working conditions were not as favorable as those abroad, Salaun grew to love Zhuhai, which is located at the mouth of the Pearl River.

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