When my aunt said she saw on the news that there had been a fire at Happy Bakery in Alhambra, I didn't realize the extent of the devastation.
Early news reports focused on one firefighter who was treated for smoke inhalation but someone actually died in this fire. The body was charred beyond recognition and the body was only discovered the following morning when investigators went in to estimate damages. Authorities thought the fire might have started from an electrical problem in the attic of the bakery.
In all, about 10 businesses were affected. I had Hunan Restaurant on my list of restaurants to try. I was just at Dai Xuong (Tai Sheng) recently to buy fancy tea for wedding gifts. And I used to go to Happy Bakery for the occasional char siu bao (Chinese barbecued pork bun), dan tat (Portuguese egg tarts), and banh cam (sesame balls).
The char siu bao and dan tats are gigantic. As you can see, they easily filled a large styrofoam container.
The bread was always soft and pillowy. The barbecued pork generous and plentiful. While they're not as delicate as what you get in dim sum restaurants, they've always filled me up.
Their har gow and siu mai are equally generously-sized. And I've bought small boxes of their other pastries through the years to give out as simple thank you gifts. These food photos had been sitting in my folder since March because I hadn't had a chance to go back and take more pictures. And now, I'm not sure who was killed in the fire and whether the families can afford to rebuild.
Happy Bakery always represented one of those microcosms of SoCal culture for me. While most people think of the San Gabriel Valley as predominantly Asian, there's an equal number of Latinos. And a small number of Asian-Latinos. Not ethnically mixed Asian and Latino, but Asians who were born or lived in Latin America before immigrating to America.
A very faded sign used to hang on the door proclaiming "Se habla Espanol." One day when I was there, a group of Latinos coming back from a game of soccer wandered in and asked the owner how he learned Spanish. He said he lived in Venezuela for 7 years? I don't remember the exact time frame. And my Spanish wasn't good enough to follow the rest of the conversation. It was just one of those moments that reminded me of why I love living in SoCal.
I sure hope Happy Bakery comes back. But if they can't, I didn't want their passing to be forgotten. :(
October 5, 2010 update:
Happy Bakery did recover and reopened as Happy Bakery - San Gabriel.
901 W. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801