Welcome to another celebration of a Food Holiday, Guide Style. Obviously, these are created holidays people made to celebrate one of the most amazing things on the planet, food. I suppose it is also one of the most necessary things for our survival. But celebrations and food have gone back as far as recorded history can reach. Who ever heard of a “starve yourself and your friends” holiday? Except for Sabbath . . . and Ramadan . . . and Yom Kippur . . . and Lent . . . and . . . and . . . Ok, you get the picture. You do fast for holidays. But usually at the end of the fast is a feast. And we at the Guide celebrate feasting. So we spare no expense when celebrating. This time, we went to the WayBack machine to find out the food history of this week’s food holiday: National Bagelfest Day. (Because Time Machines exist!!!)
The bagel is the second cousin twice removed from the donut. And, as you know, we have already celebrated the donut. So we couldn’t miss the chance to celebrate the slightly healthier and tasty in its own right “holy” bread. Bagels are beautiful things. Who hasn’t feasted on a bagel and cream cheese early in the morning? For me, I would have to say that a Strawberry Bagel with blueberry cream cheese, toasted and buttered, rivals any donut out there for early morning yumminess . . . and carbs. Because we couldn’t forget the carbs.
As for a personal experience with bagels, I am sure I could name hundreds of positive associations with the bagel, and maybe a few negative ones. But the bagel has always been prominent in memories. I think my biggest memory with the bagel was leaving my ex-fiancée after the New Year’s 2000 holiday. I stayed up at her place with her mother for a couple of weeks and was coming home. It was probably the last good moment I remember having with her, even though it was bittersweet. She ran around the airport searching for something to sustain me on my flight home. I was taking a TWA flight from Detroit to St. Louis and the back to Los Angeles.
I remember the look in her tear stained eyes just like it was yesterday. She ran up with the cinnamon raisin bagel with some cream cheese and butter. I stared into her eyes as she teared up while I readied myself to board a plane. (This was back before 9/11 when you could have your family with you waiting at the terminal before you left.) I remember the taste of cinnamon mixed with the savory cream cheese as it went in my mouth. I remember it mixed with my own tears, not really wanting to leave. She gave me a big kiss, and one of those lingering hugs waiting for them to call my name.
We were sharing the bagel and I could taste the cinnamon off of her lips as well, mixed with her own tears. I then boarded a plane, sustained in the knowledge that I would be back there again with my first love, sharing another bagel. Little did I know how hard the next time would be when I would see her, and how my life would feel like it was being torn asunder.
The bagel, for better or for worse, is among the most amazing of food inventions. I know that for those of you who are on the Atkins diet, it’s the bane of your existence. But consider, the bagel as is currently constructed, is one of the easiest to carry, hardy, and tasty pieces of bread that we have. It’s no wonder that its existence can be traced back if not hundreds of years, thousands of years. And even back then they were using additives like poppy seeds.
Of course, we here at the Guide couldn’t leave well enough alone with all of the histories of the Bagel previously written. We needed to send our crack research team into the WayBack machine in order to find out how the bagel actually came to be. Which means we must write another fake history detailing our time machine efforts to get to the bottom of the bagel. We would leave no stone unturned (even if we wish we had) in search for the fake truth. So we sent them off, and after no time at all (given they were in a time machine), they came back with the results of their findings, which astonished us. So without further ado, we present those findings to you.
The Fake History Of The Bagel
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there lives a space alien called Yoda who was cooking up a batch of . . . Wait! That’s not how the history begins. Evidently, one of our researchers got too carried away in their Fake History of Star Wars post . . . which will come out . . . sometime. The history of the bagel really begins with those crazy headpiece wearing Egyptians and their sycophantic obsession with the cat. Because only a cat could come up with something insidious as the carbohydrate rich bagel. It was back in the times of the ancient Egyptians when they held the Jewish people in slavery.
The Egyptian Version
Way back in those ancient times, the Pharaoh was planning a big feast for the completion of the Sphinx. But on the day to crown that glorious piece of Egyptian architecture, one of the slaves working on it caused the nose of the Sphinx to come off. He was very upset at this mistake and worried that it would cost him his life. He went to his Jewish brethren to get him out of this mess. Everyone thought him screwed until a baker thought he could do something about it. He had been experimenting with cooking this bread which did not look unlike stone. Unfortunately, he had a cat for his children. And as they were wont to do, the cat got pissed that the baker was focused too much on baking this bread to replace the nose. And he took to peeing on the bread.
The baker figured he needed to do something, so he decided to boil the bread before baking it and seeing what would happen. The bread grew denser and made it harder for the cat to ruin. But boiling and baking made it hard to shape into the form of a nose. So as the baker thought about how to fix this problem, he decided to make lots of round boiled and baked shapes that had holes in them, with seeds to be able to give the appearance of a stone nose. With enough small rolls of bread, he was able to fool the Pharaoh and save his Jewish brother from a fate worse than death. Eventually, the piece of missing Sphinx nose would fall off, but not before the Jews had escaped Egypt and taken their bagel recipe with them.
The German/Jewish/Polish Version
Of course, you cannot have the history of a food without competing versions of where that food comes from. And the Germanic/Jewish/Polish contingent, could not accept the version of events that the Egyptians claimed herein. Whether this notion of boiling bread existed B.C. or whether it just cropped up in the 14th Century, we will never know for sure. What we do know about this version from our trip through the WayBack is that Germans and Jews both migrated to Poland about the 14th Century.
And what is even more curious is that the Polish people were really progressive when it came to the Jewish people. In most countries, they limited Jews to being Bankers because a good “Christian” could not lend money with interest. So they needed some people to do so and figured that they could accept Jews doing a “dirty” job. Literature reflects this trend. If you read Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the people revile the Jewish banker Shylock for what he does, despite desperately needing him to do it. So when the Polish people allowed the Jews to start baking in the community, it came as quite a shock indeed.
Legend has it that the Jewish people needed to boil their bread in order to purify it given their dietary restrictions. So they would boil bread before baking. Simultaneously, the Germans brought with them their pretzel style thick bread from Germany into Poland. The combination of the German Bread with the Jewish method of cooking is how we got what we know of today as our Bagel.
Of course, the story does not end there. The story of the great round hole is another thing altogether. In the glamorized version fit only for the fake newspapers, we bring you the story of Jan Sobieski, king of Poland. According to our fake sources from the WayBack machine, when the king of Poland held back the Turkish army from a massacre, they made a Jewish baker named Daniel Danielson responsible for baking something to celebrate the king’s victory.
His first idea was to bake a cake into the shape of a Polish Hound. But after too much howling from his wife, he knew that he needed to do something different. So he went off to see the king’s manservant to ask him what things inspired him. Going through the stables he tripped over a bale of hay and right into the rigging of a horse. His head smacked right up against the stirrup and left a round indentation on his forehead. Instead of having the conversation he went home to dress his wounds.
For the next two weeks, he stared at himself in a mirror and thought about what shape he could bake the cake into. Nothing came to him. Two days before they were to have the celebration for the king, Daniel heard from his partner that they were all out of sugar. He was so upset that he smacked his partner all around, asking what he could be thinking using all the sugar when he needed to bake a cake for the king. His partner quit on the spot but yelled one epithet at Daniel as he walked out the door. “Beugelhead!” He quipped and slammed the door on the way out. (Beugel was the German word for stirrup.)
Daniel smacked the circular indentation on his head and had an idea. He knew just what he would do. But what would they use for the cake? Instead of sugar, he had all the stuff to make German pretzels. So he decided to take that bread and make it into the shape of a stirrup, which his partner and forehead indentation had inspired. So the bagel comes directly from a smack on the head. Or it comes from the fact that the king just loved his horses and the stirrup was something the baker could easily make and pay homage to the king. You be the judge.
While I have never made a Bagel in my life, I would love to try making one. But since I haven’t made one, I don’t have a recipe I feel like would properly pay homage to the Egyptian/Jewish/German/Polish invention. And as such, I would never add a recipe without trying it out first. But what I will do is discuss the best Bagel places in southern California.
I realize I stated something sacrilegious to people from New York, which claim to have the best bagels because somehow the magic water from New York has just the right chemicals in it for baking. I am not sure what it says about the drinking water that you have there. Honestly, I was not overly impressed with the New York Bagels I had upon my visit. Maybe I just visited the wrong places. I have, however, found some amazing California Bagel shops you should take a look at. So welcome to my top five list of Southern California Bagel shops.
Top Five Southern California Bagel Shops
Upon walking into the store you will find endless racks of bagels from which to choose. And as anyone who knows me by know will attest, I love variety. I need to be able to try different things, even if I have a favorite. As they have over 25 different varieties of bagels, several different cream cheese flavors and the ability to make sandwiches, East Coast Bagel is a West Coast dream when it comes to bagels.
Located in San Diego, Brooklyn Bagel and Bialy is a little bit of New York Bagel paradise in Southern California. With a litany of bagels and an assortment of cream cheeses the place feels like you are at home. While not as many bagel varieties as other bagel eateries, this bagel shop will so you some amazing things that it can do with a bagel sandwich. There are so many different sandwich creations they have there that tempt your taste buds and leave your mouth watering. If you are down in San Diego, you should definitely check it out and take a bite.
Since 1986 Shirley’s Bagels has been serving up a little slice of heaven in the heart of Orange County. (Do not confuse with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) They have a list of twenty-five bagels, a plethora of cheeses, sandwiches, and salads. In addition, for those of you who are into your coffees, what could be better than a bagel shop that made an arrangement with Kean’s coffee? You get coffee and bagel heaven all in one.
2) The Bagel Factory –
With over 25 different bagel types, 8 different cream cheeses, sandwiches, salads, omelets and soups that are to die for, The Bagel Factory is the premier bagel place in the Southland. Serving Kosher style bagels since 1973 Sanford Brody has prided himself on making everything oven fresh, with no preservatives or artificial ingredients. The wide varieties of bagels, including the Everything bagel which packs quite a crunch, makes the Bagel Factory one of the Southlands best bagel destinations.
From the family of Russian immigrants to a man supposed to be a Rabbi, Western Bagel represents the American Story. Louis Uston was a Russian immigrant who made bagels at a bagel shop while learning to be a Rabbi upon coming to New York. His son David took to helping out his dad and got heavily involved in Bagels. On overhearing a conversation about the lack of good Bagels on the West Coast David packed up his family and moved west to begin what is now known as Western Bagel. Western Bagel has everything when it comes to bagels. They sell almost 40 different Bagel varieties, including pumpkin when in season, 17 different cream cheeses and a plethora of sandwiches, coffee, and muffins from which to choose. In addition, you have the ability to order online.
Continue The Conversation
So what kind of bagel is your favorite? Do you like a particular type of cream cheese, butter, or do you just like it plain and toasted? And what is your go to bagel place and why? Also, what did you think of the history of the bagel? Which story do you believe? As you know, I love strawberry bagels. But blueberry bagels are a close second.
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Until next time, this is me signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life