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Bagel vs Bagel

Having grown up primarily in the Northeast, I grew up with New York bagels. The dense, chewy, bready, delicious rounds smeared with smooth cream cheese could be a wonderful start to any Sunday morning. Add some lox & capers and a Bloody Mary and you have a breakfast fit for royalty – ok, that might be pushing it a bit.

I don’t remember eating a bagel until well into adulthood while attending college in Brooklyn. That’s when I met friends who went to diners regularly and thus the bagel was introduced. Over the years, I’ve eaten countless bagels from many many establishments all over the perimeter of New York City & New Jersey. Some were wonderful, others not so much, but ask me to eat a bagel outside the New York/New Jersey area and I will most likely pass, unless it’s the only option and there’s a chance I will faint from hunger otherwise. I’ve always found bagels outside this general geographic area to be just plain bad, and I’m now convinced that it really is primarily about the water.

In the past few years, a good friend has been touting Montreal bagels to me and exclaiming that not only are they better, but “they’re the best”. Well, I just couldn’t fathom this concept. I have been to Montreal many times, have even had a bagel or two, but do not remember them leaving an impression on me. So, on a recent visit to that city, I decided to make a purposeful visit to the famous St Viateur bagel shop which my friend recommended. To keep it fair, I ordered what I always order at the bagel shop near my home – everything bagel with herb cream cheese.

Before I give you my verdict, I must first tell you that I don’t eat bagels very often these days. Too many carbs which seem to have an immediate impact on my middle aged middle. So when I eat a bagel, I want to enjoy the guilty pleasure thoroughly. Then I want to walk off the calories fairly immediately to minimize the damage. Since Montreal is a great walking city on a beautiful day, the stars were aligned for a perfect Sunday morning as I walked to the bagel shop and knew I’d have a two mile walk back.

I waited on the somewhat long line in anticipation, slowly making my way to the front. I placed my order to go and walked over to a park I had passed to sit down and eat what I had thought would be an equal to all the delicious bagels I had eaten in the past, but different. I trusted my friend who enjoys good food and loves to cook as much as I…….

In looks, the Montreal bagel is thinner, and smaller with a larger, more prominent hole in the middle. It smelled good. I took my first bite and was underwhelmed. Alas, I was disappointed. I didn’t like it. The texture was more tough on the outside and more airy on the inside than I’m used to in a New York bagel, and it was missing a certain yeasty characteristic. But these weren’t reasons to dislike this bagel. In fact, I could only forcibly eat half of the bagel and tossed the remaining half into the trash. It was not worth the extra calories and carbs I decided. I walked around afterwards for miles trying to think about why I didn’t like this famous bagel. Was it because I was just used to something different? Was it a stubbornness that made me want to not accept its good qualities? Were my expectations too high? None of these were accurate nor made any sense.

It came to me on my drive back home later that day – the Montreal bagel was too sweet. Yes, I said sweet. In addition to a lack of salt, there is a distinct sweetness to the bagel which I’d never experienced before, nor anticipated. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like sweet foods that are meant to be savory. Don’t even get me started on raisins or dried fruit in my savory dishes. I’m ok with the addition of some sweet to balance heat, but it must be muted and barely noticeable. But there is was – the distinct sweet flavor. So much so that the cream cheese tasted salty which I originally thought was due to my recent switch to a low sodium diet for health reasons.

Mystery solved, I continued down the New York State Thruway to the place I call home and where my favorite bagels are still being made daily. The next weekend, I had to indulge in my regular order at the local favorite “bagelry” followed by a four mile walk on my favorite walking track. Life was good again!!

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