My father once told me that the bagel made him proud to be Jewish, and if you’ve ever had a fresh H&H bagel in New York you know what he is talking about. It’s just the perfect density with the perfect outside “crust,” not too chewy, not too light and certainly not too doughy. I used to have one, plain, for lunch almost every single day when I started working in New York–and there was one editor at Mademoiselle I worked with whose daily diet was: one H&H bagel for breakfast, one for lunch and one for dinner. She figured that was less than 1,000 calories…and what more could she want?
If you don’t live in New York, you’re basically screwed when it comes to getting a good bagel. Maybe my traffic and comments will go up with this statement—I know several people here in Los Angeles (always playing catch-up with NYC) who say Western Bagel is better than H&H, or some such nonsense. We’ve tried all the bagel places here, to no avail. Even the H&H bagels you can buy at Barney Greengrass here are not fully baked, and when you do it’s just not a real H&H bagel.
When I was growing up in New York, my dad drove down to the lower east side every single Sunday morning to get bagels, nova and smoked white fish. My mom made scrambled eggs to go with the white fish (now, that’s a great combo!!!), and she ALWAYS buttered the bagels before toasting under the broiler (I never knew people ate untoasted bagels with their cream cheese and salmon, and now that I do I don’t have a clue as to why). Buttering the bagel is an absolute must….
The cream cheese (two 8-ounce packages, one brick on top of the other) was on the table, and from a very early age I learned that one spreads it thickly. Not just a bit thickly. Really, really thickly.
Next comes very thinly sliced red onion, then smoked salmon–we never had lox (too salty), only nova. A bit of pepper and a squeeze of lemon finishes it off, and occasionally capers, which I love, but always roll off and are therefore too distracting for me.
As much as I love chocolate…I love bagels, cream cheese and salmon almost that much.We don’t have it that often because, let’s face it, the butter on the bagel (real, sweet butter…no Smart Balance) and the inch-thick wad of cream cheese (no one-third less fat, the real Philadelphia deal) are not exactly what you’d call lite. But when we do, I don’t skimp and I enjoy every single bite. (BTW, if you think I have just one half you’re dead wrong.)