As proud as the French are of their culture, it is impossible to deny the growing influence that American culture has had in this country. I’m constantly seeing American fads wherever I go in Paris from the music and movies to sneakers to fast food to weekend brunches. Strangely, Parisians have also found an interest in bagels. Coming from New York, the home of the world’s best bagels, I haven’t dared to taste a single one of the imitations I pass daily in café windows.
Still, a part of me was always curious. Were New York bagels overrated? A bagel is a bagel, what could be that different? And the most well-known, supposedly with the best bagels, is called Bagelstein. BAGELSTEIN. Because naturally all the best bagels are made by Jews (from New York). So this morning, after waking up at 6am to watch the sun rise next to the Eiffel Tower, when I passed a Bagelstein, I finally said to myself, Why not? No more putting it off. I was finally going to have my answers.
Let’s start with the toppings. The one constant of a New York bagel is that you can always get a plain bagel with cream and know you’ll be satisfied. Every time. Unfailingly. But here in Paris, I don’t think that’s exactly an option. The board hanging on the wall offered a variety of pre-formulated topping combinations, all with at least four toppings including avocado, pickles, chicken, mozzarella, and peppers. I concocted my own combination but felt a little pressured to choose more than simply cream cheese and thought longingly of my veggie cream cheese and tomato slice combo back home. But I kept an open mind.
Next there was the price. I paid 7€40 for my bagel! A bagel in New York would never be more than $5 and that’s only if you deliberately try to make the most expensive combination. Otherwise, I’d get my simple sesame bagel from Bagel Hut for $2.50.
Now for the taste…I actually am not even sure how to compare because it is so incomparable. The bagel itself just tasted like bread, and its texture was a little too hard. A true bagel finds the perfect equilibrium of crunchy outside with chewy inside. Also, the cream cheese was a mockery. I miss Temp Tee. (Not a Philadelphia cream cheese kinda girl.)
I am now convinced that outside New York – or, to be fair, the tri-state are – bagels are chameleons; they are just bread taking on the shape of a true, New York bagel. It must be something in the water.
The one positive thing that I have to say about Bagelstein is its snarky attitude. All over the walls of the tiny café were funny photos, comics, and posters with sarcastic sayings. On one wall they displayed the family tree of the “Bagelsteins” with ridiculously unrealistic photos. This humor, very different from that of the French, felt a little more like home.