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December 15, 2009

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.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Tonia permalink
    December 15, 2009 11:28 am

    Funny you should mention the blueberry bagel… (GROSS). That was in an episode of Sex in the City where one of the character’s takes a bite out of a bagel and realizes its blueberry and spits it out.

    That aside, I totally agree. NOTHING like smoked salmon deal above, nothing. My mouth is watering thinking about it. What is your bagel recommendation in the Albany area? I’m curious.

  2. December 15, 2009 11:34 am

    “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.”


    This, above all, is the thing I miss most.

  3. DON permalink
    December 15, 2009 12:11 pm

    The definitive truth on bagels, this will be required reading for all serious students of Jewish culture.

  4. NY Deli Man permalink
    December 15, 2009 1:59 pm

    The bagels have to be boiled and baked. The first and only time I had a bagel from some donut chain, I took one bight and tossed the rest out.

    I really need to check out Bagel Hut next time I’m on the Island.

    Nova or Belly lox?

    My father liked Belly and the kids preferred Nova. Every Sunday morning we had both types of lox , herring, sable, chubs, and occasionally sturgeon. There were so many smoke houses all over the city back then the prices were affordable for everyone.

  5. Raf permalink
    December 15, 2009 3:18 pm

    I’d add egg and pumpernickel to the list of approved bagel types. It seems like cinnamon raisin, despite their sweetness, have been around for a while and probably make the list.

    I love egg bagels with whitefish salad. Lox is too salty for me (and I like salt), so I gotta go with nova, although nowadays if you ask for lox you’ll generally get nova anyway.

    You are correct in that an open faced bagel is in no way a sandwich.

  6. December 15, 2009 3:51 pm

    bagels from Uncommon Grounds are the best. An Everything w/ scallion-garlic cream cheese

    and what’s up w/ those buttholes that decide they only want half and then cut it the wrong way?! jerks

  7. December 16, 2009 12:10 pm

    Sundays in Brooklyn were not complete without a run to the bagel store for a baker’s dozen of warm sesame and everything (if I was buying) and cinnamon raisin (yuck) if other people were buying.

    But I have to disagree on the sandwich because coming home from clubbing always meant a stop at the deli for an everything bagel with cream cheese and baked ham. The perfect hangover cure.

  8. Ellen Whitby permalink
    December 16, 2009 11:06 pm

    Lucky for me, I have a recipe that actually does justice to the fond memories I have of Sunday morning breakfast from the bagel shop in Queens. I respectfully disagree with phairhead about Uncommon Grounds. Though I do go there not infrequently, their version of the bagel is several times removed from what a bagel should be. (Doesn’t that sound arrogant?)

    And if we’re already talking about bagel imposters, might I add that the new bialies they’re selling at price chopper are an unsurprising disappointment. Fortunately, I’ve got a recipe for those too.

  9. December 17, 2009 9:39 am

    You make your own bagels, Ellen? Impressive. I bake bread but I never thought to attempt bagels. Would you be willing to share the recipe?

    And I get what you are saying about UG bagels, but I’ve found them to be the best upstate bagels. Not Brooklyn bagels (my gold standard) but the best I’ve tried up here. Do you know of better? Besides your own, of course.

  10. Annie permalink
    December 17, 2009 12:02 pm

    I had success curing a mean hankering for bagels in South America with this bagel recipe:

    Real NY’er expats even vouched for them ;)
    *our very short-lived attempt at blogging


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