Vendor Spotlight: Koko Bakery
Koko Bakery Creates a Colorful Balance Between Sweet and Savory
It’s lunch hour and Koko Bakery has literally dozens of options to offer. “Try the Coconut Bun, it’s my favorite!” suggests Ling Yu, as I stand cross-armed in front of a case filled with an enormous selection of fresh baked Asian buns, my mouth watering.
When Ling and her husband, Juani Xu, a baker, opened Koko Bakery ten years ago, there were no Asian-style bakeries in Cleveland. As the years have passed, they’ve grown to become a successful staple of Cleveland’s Asiatown neighborhood. “Every year is better and better,” she says.
I take Ling’s suggestion to try the Coconut Bun; it’s deliciously fresh and pleasantly sweet with coconut filling delicately lining it’s airy interior. I watch as the woman behind the counter quickly bags up dozens of baked goods and bubble teas for customers, most of which take them to go. Others stay to enjoy the lively light-filled environment at tables next to windows lined with orchids and bamboo. Located at East 37th and Payne Ave, the bakery is a favorite fast snack destination for Cleveland State students.
This is Koko Bakery’s second year at Night Market. They will be offering selections of buns, desserts, bubble tea, and shaved ice. The bubble teas, served with chewy tapioca balls, will be available in popular flavors including honeydew, Thai tea, watermelon, lychee, and passion fruit. They will also be offering four different selections of shaved ice with toppings including fresh fruit — strawberry, kiwi, mango, and a Korean favorite, sweet beans or fruit jellies, and if you’re feeling adventurous, a shaved ice containing red bean, green bean, and peanut.
When it comes to sweet versus savory flavors, Koko Bakery doesn’t discriminate; they embrace the best of both worlds. The bakery offers a wide variety of sweet and savory steamed buns, many of which are vegetarian friendly and always baked fresh daily. The filling includes, strawberry and lemon jam, pork, cabbage, green vegetable, chicken, red bean, taro, and many others.
Koko also offers a wide selection of gorgeously displayed desserts, including chocolate covered strawberries, green tea mousse, lemon and toffee bars, fresh fruit caramel flan, and Japanese style cheese cake. “My country, China and the Taiwanese, don’t use a lot of sugar in their desserts,” Ling informs. Koko’s selection of sweets are made with all natural goods containing low sugar, low fat, and no preservatives.
Customers can also special order intricate cakes for weddings, birthdays, and special events. It’s comes as no surprise that Koko Bakery employs numerous bakers to keep up with their expansive selection of offerings.
Ling and I have reached the end of our conversation and as I begin to pack up, I notice two photographs of Ling’s kids, ages five and seven, on the table behind the register. She politely excuses herself because it’s nearing late afternoon and its time to pick them up.
I ask her one final question, “What are you most looking forward to at this upcoming Night Market?”
Well, Ling is excited to share Koko Bakery with Cleveland, but she is most excited to share the magic of the experience with her kids, who absolutely love watching the red and gold dragon weave it’s way through the crowds and booths, coming to life to perform the traditional Dragon Dance.
You can enjoy Koko Bakery at Night Market Cleveland on July 29th from 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM at the intersection of Rockwell Ave. and E 21st Street, where hungry attendees line-up early for their treats. For more information about Koko Bakery, visit their Facebook. The bakery is located at 3710 Payne Ave., in the heart of Asiatown.
Photographs by Breanna Kulkin