Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Q: What’s the difference between Karate and Judo?
A: Karate is an ancient form of martial arts, and Judo is what you use to make bagels.
It is kind of amazing that I have been writing this blog for over six months and STILL have yet to cover the travesty of modern bagels.
“Is it a bigger travesty than that joke you led off with?”
You better believe it.
“But I like bagels.”
Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. But I’m guessing if you are not fired up on the subject that you like what people are calling bagels. You like those round bready things with a hole in the middle that people sell as bagels.
They make them in chains large and small all over the country. Some of these chains even dare to use the word Bagel in their names. Most of them make bagel sandwiches.
Let me try to explain.
Here is the problem. Most bagels are too large, too soft, and too squishy. They come in ridiculous novelty flavors to disguise their inferior taste and texture – asiago and blueberry come to mind. Some are even steamed. The horror. The horror.
To be a bagel one must:
1) Be boiled and not steamed.
2) Have a firm external crust.
3) Contain a dense, chewy interior.
Simply being boiled is not enough.
Eating a bagel is like exercise for your jaw. After consuming one (if you are not in shape) you may find yourself a little sore, but not in a bad way. Still, you feel good about the enterprise, since the bagel itself was so tasty and rewarding.
A good bagel needs nothing. No toasting, no slicing, no cream cheese, no butter, no jelly, no whitefish, nothing. A good bagel can stand on its own. Anything it needs will be stuck to its crust, be it onions, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds. I may allow a bit of leniency on garlic, salt and caraway, because they are components of a bagel with everything – and those can qualify as good bagels.
It is a foolish decision to make a sandwich out of a good bagel. With its firm crust and dense chewy interior, only the sturdiest eaters would be able to get their teeth through such a creation. And even if one could indeed bite through it repeatedly, its contents would most assuredly be squeezed out under the force.
An open-faced sandwich, which some might argue isn’t a sandwich at all, is a delightful use of a real bagel. Cream cheese, smoked wild salmon, red onion and a slice of ripe summer tomato on a true bagel is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
I am of the mind that good bagels can exist in other places than New York. Not that I’ve had any. But I believe they can exist. I’m not buying the argument that the secret is in the water.
My gold standard for bagels is my Nana’s bagel shop in Great Neck, the Bagel Hut. It is the ruler against which all other bagel shops are judged. These are the bagels of my childhood. The bagels we would have for all family gatherings. The ones Nana would pack up and fly out personally from JFK to SFO. The ones she sent up to Albany with my sister after the birth of my daughter.
And the Bagel Hut has done something wonderful. They have started making mini-bagels. The shop was not immune to the frightful trend of bagels getting bigger and bigger over time. But now they have done something to combat that trend. Smaller bagels. Bagels that are closer to the size bagels should be.
If it’s not too much a blow to your ego to go small, they are wonderful.
And they are the real deal.