I suppose some might say comparing an American bagel to a “Brick Lane beigel” is like comparing apples to oranges. Those from New York would say it’s a matter of men against boys: there’s no contest. But I find it to be a worthwhile comparison – the first in my ‘to-may-toe vs to-mah-toe’ section because the first time I walked into Beigel Bake on Brick Lane a few years ago I was horrified. I can now report I have come to love the Brick Lane beigel for what it is, but the American bagel still reigns strong.
“You have to try the bagels on Brick Lane,” I was told. Not to mention every London guide book recommends Brick Lane’s Beigel Bake as a place to eat when you’re in the East End. So, along I went with an American friend of mine, fully expecting a bagel shop similar to those in that States (I realise now how ignorant that was, yes.) and what did I find? A complete and utter shock: a shop filled with one kind of bagel, pre filled with the likes of cream cheese, salmon, hot salt beef and stacked on a shelf, only to the thrown at you by a moody woman who shouts “ONE-FIFTY!!!!!” And did I mention they’re not toasted? Oy.
In America, the bagel shops are packed with about 20 different kinds of bagels: onion, sesame seed, cinnamon raison, plain, spinach and parmesan (my fave), sundried tomato and the list goes on and on. They are not prefilled: you simply request the filling you’d like (right down to different flavours of cream cheese) and they toast it up for you, add the fresh fillings and you’re on your way. The thing that makes American bagel shops so great is the egg and cheese option – something that I’ve been told English people don’t understand but I can assure you eggs and cheese are a delightful combo.
The perfect bagel is an ‘everything’ bagel (onions, sesame seeds, and the ‘kitchen sink’ of bagel flavours) with a fried egg, tomatoes and Swiss cheese, and a bit of hot sauce. And it must be toasted so the cheese melts and the bagel is hot!
As I said I have learned to love the Brick Lane beigel – it is sweet and soft, similar to hala bread and the cream cheese has a dry, rough texture. The salmon is fresh and delicious and I can now appreciate the pre-filled bagel concept – those ladies turn out millions of bagels in seconds, so they have no choice but to prepackage them.
And as a resident of East London I now know how popular these babies actually are. On the weekends, everyone is carrying around a bagel in its little brown paper bag, and the sweet smell of the bagels being baked fills the air.
Though it will never compare to the American bagel, a beigel from Brick Lane does the trick and the place is open 24 hours – so you can have one any time of the day or night, definitely not something you’d find in Fort Myers, Florida.