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How a round bit of bread has kept me going through all the worst and best moments of life. And why it's important to only eat good bagels.
What makes a good bagel? There’s some debate about this, but largely we can agree on the basics - crispy outside, light and doughy inside. A perfect bagel size is slightly larger than the palm of your hand. Holding it flat, it should reach from your fingers to the heel of your hand, and should have a warm, faintly sweet smell that has the same effect of pulling on the coziest bathrobe of your life. The best flavor, is, of course, the everything bagel (proof is in the name).
Most importantly, there are many bad bagels. And people need to know the perils of a bad bagel. Especially if you are living outside of NJ/NY with no access to their bagels (I am terribly sorry for you if that’s the case, and happy to recommend some good stores that ship their bagels to you).
I couldn’t possibly hope to do justice to the history of the bagel as told by Ari Weinzweig in The Atlantic - Ari, we have similar last names, which I think is very cool! - but I am here to discuss the bagel from a personal standpoint.
I was lucky enough to grow up in New Jersey, near a bagel store that has, by now, been there for nearly forty years.
Bagels are $1. A baker’s dozen is $12, and that thirteenth bagel tastes like luck, even though you know that everyone gets a thirteenth bagel. These bagels are shaped by hand, boiled in water, and then cooked at an ungodly high temperature in a giant, rotating oven. When they come out, they’re so hot that the plastic gloves we used to pull them out would melt into our hands, because yes of course my first job was at a bagel store, how do you think this all began, I watched bagels rotate and dreamt of eating each flavor and worried about the things fourteen-year-olds worry about and every day I worked I got a breakfast sandwich for lunch and it was, it is, the best thing I’ve ever had to eat.
But moving to D.C. meant moving away from my 7-days-a-week access to bagels. At first, I thought, okay, that’s fine, I should probably try new things and maybe I will find a new bagel spot here. Unfortunately for myself and all the people who follow me on Instagram, I was wrong. Bagel after bagel let me down. Too dense. Too small. Too chewy. Some bagels here shouldn’t even be allowed to call themselves bagels! They look and taste like mashed-up loaves of bread with everything seasoning pathetically sprinkled on top. Essentially, I left the land of plenty and found myself in a bagel drought.
There are a lot of things that are interesting about being Jewish. Some things we’re associated with are funny, like funny ha-ha, some are funny like, that’s definitely anti-Semitic, and some, like the bagel, are the perfect relationship.
So, how have I survived this long in D.C. without good bagels? I don’t really know. The memory of TBEWC on an EV SPKHS keeps me alive. (For those of you not familiar with the bagel order language, that’s a turkey bacon egg white and cheese on an everything bagel with salt pepper ketchup and hot sauce). Every time I visit NJ, I bring a dozen bagels home with me. The best way to keep them is to pre-slice and freeze them. Let them thaw a bit and give them 5-10 seconds in the microwave before toasting and adding cream cheese and tomato and chili flakes. Then enjoy.
Eating a good bagel is essential to your good health, but eating a bad bagel can easily take years off of your life.
There are a few places here that are pretty good - Call Your Mother has great branding, but overpriced bagels that are a bit too small and too dense for me. The best bagel I’ve found is Bagels Etc. on P St. near Dupont Circle. It’s cash only, as reasonably priced as anything I’ve found in D.C. (a bagel is $2, which is pretty great), and the woman most often behind the counter is incredibly kind and quick with your order. I’ve continued to try and review bagel places around D.C. and hope to expand that to the DMV area, so if you have recommendations, please let me know. I usually document the journey on my Instagram, but I’ll start including it here as well.
Eating a good bagel is essential to your good health, but eating a bad bagel can easily take years off of your life. A good, fresh bagel is one of the top-most comfort foods. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack? Bagel. Sweet, salty, or somewhere in between, a bagel can outperform any other bread-based food. I present you the bagel that lives on in my dreams:
So, what’s your go-to bagel place? And your bagel order? (Comment wisely, there are wrong answers). Thank you for reading, and looking forward to hearing about your bagel love stories!!
*a small side note: I have included ALT text on both photos. If you have trouble reading them or feel they could be improved in their accuracy, please let me know.