American Bagel vs Brick Lane Beigel

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.

Salmon and cream cheese "beigel"

Salmon and cream cheese "beigel"

“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.

An American bagel, in all its glory

An American bagel, in all its glory

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.

26 comments

  1. I lived in New York for a while, the bagel/beigel difference is a pet topic of mine! They’re such different things and I love the Brick Lane ones, but I still dream of someone making Everything Bagels in London one day. Have you tried the chopped herring beigels, by the way? Won’t find those in NY ;)

  2. Mmmmmm gotta love a good egg and cheese bagel, hot and toasty! Don’t forget the layer of ham or bacon too. But I think I would enjoy the bagels over there equally… I just ate a non-toasted bagel with cream cheese today in fact. I’ve come to be quite the bagel person since it is one of the only free things available at Zeta on weekends. Bring on the bagels!!!

  3. My Sunday morning NYC tradition was to get a H&H bagel and fill it with the delicious spreads from Zabar’s in the Upper West Side…I do consider myself a New York bagel snob. So I am happy to report that the salmon/cream cheese beigel & salt beef/spicy mustard beigel from Brick Lane Beigel are both divine! As Libby suggested, you have to appreciate them for what they are, and not expect a NY bagel. The hot salt beef beigel is one of a kind – the sweet beigel combined with the salty meat and spicy mustard satisfies all your palette’s tastebuds. And if I lived as close to Brick Lane as Libby does, the buck fifty salmon cream cheese beigel would be my daily breakfast (dangerous..)
    Thanks for the bagel/beigel tips Libs!

  4. I guess it depends what time of day you go. I went on a Friday night around 10pm and I had fresh salt beef slapped into my beigel to accompany half a ton of mustard to make my head burn.

  5. Jones – haven’t tried the herring but think that might be a bit much for me! will stick with the salmon and yes I agree, I’m waiting for the day when we can get ET bagels in london!

    Lizzie – I suppose the salt beef is usually done right in front of you, but I was still horrified by the pre-packed salmon and cream cheese bagels. I was also horrified by the pre packaged Pret sandwiches when I first saw them, but I’m over all of that now!

  6. Great post Libby. I have to say I fall into the American bagel camp (dreaming now of a toasted everything bagel filled with roasted turkey, plain cream cheese, cucumbers, red onions and most importantly banana peppers! – ever tried that combo?), but do see where you are coming from with the hot salt beef beigel!

  7. Oh my Marilyn, I can’t believe you just brought up banana peppers!! especially on turkey bagel/sandwich… I really miss ‘em!

  8. I can’t go to Shoreditch without getting an overloaded salt beef and pickle beigel from Beigel Bake, and a big bag of plain ones to take home. Always reminds me of the Soup Nazi episode on Seinfeld, however.

  9. The reason us east-enders love to have bagels there is because of their signature bagel … the hot salt beef. It’s a traditional Jewish feast, loaded with chunky beef, hot mustard and gherkin. Totally yummy and so much nicer than plain old smoked salmon and cream cheese. You should try it.

  10. You’re right in that you can’t really compare the two. They’re a completely different experience. But kudos to you for referring to them as “Beigels”. My vocabulary refuses to recognise the word “Bagel” unless I’m in the States. Well done for a good article though and I love the use of the word “ravenous” in your site title!!

    Raven

    P.S. I mentioned this place on my Brick Lane street food review: http://www.ravengarcia.com/2011/02/street-food-in-brick-lane/, check it out!!

  11. [...] Brick Lane Bagels/Beigels – I was lucky enough to live one block from Brick Lane and could smell the intense sweet scent of the bagel bakeries on my walk to and from work. At £1.60 for a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, available 24 hours a day, you cannot get a better ‘bang for your buck,’ as we say in the US. The salt beef bagels with spicy mustard are also to die for if you’re really starving. I wrote a post about the difference between American bagels and Brick Lane beigels a while back and it is here. [...]

  12. My love will forever be the brick lane beigel.

    I bought american bagels before and they’re too doughy and dry for me. All the great american ones advertised on english tv here that i’ve had just truly taste so bland and dull QWQ I want to like them but too chewy.

    I like the brick lane ones best cause it’s sorta sweet, and it’s not too doughy and a bit crispy and it has so much flavour in the bread alone. XD

    I my bagel/beigel argument is usually with a friend, not over their taste but over the correct way of saying it. I just bagel = american. beigel = english. XD

    *carries on eating her beigel happily*

  13. Everytime I go to Brick Lane the bagels are always made fresh, not seen anything prepackaged.

    Brick Lane bakeries follow the North European style of Bagel-ism, it’s basic, but pretty authentic. Granted a US bakery has much more variety, but that’s generally a (good) thing that happened to bagels after they came to the States.

  14. You can’t compare English beigels with NY bagels (or Florida’s for that matter). It’s all down to the local water that’s used in the making of the dough. Grew up on London’s, adapted to NY’s, now find London’s a bit stoggier than I remembered! Sadly H&H bagels on NY’s Upper West Side just went out of business but thankfully still lots of local shops in most NY neighborhoods.

  15. Bricklane beigel is simply authentically a Jewish beigel. It’s the real thing. Whatever Katz Delicatessen or any other ‘drli’ in NYC might claim as ‘authentic’… It’s not. These beiges from London is how it really authentically done in the old world. And I love it.

  16. Brick Lane Beigels are the best in the world. That is evident by the queue 24/7. Bagels are for New Yorkers , Beigels are for East Enders, Yiddishers or not, it doesn’t matter, it’s part of our culture. It is good to have a choice though.

  17. ‘Beigel’ is the correct term, descending from Yiddish. The first vowel sound is pronounced like ‘eye’ or ‘fly’ or ‘pie’. In America it has been distorted to pronunciation like ‘day’ or ‘ray’. Among the various reasons for this is the sad fact that Americans are hopeless at foreign languages — indeed, pronouncing a non-English word correctly might get you sent to Guantanamo Bay. Another absurdity is ‘arugula’ (a mishearing of Italian ‘rucola’, the herb once known (and still known in UK) as ‘rocket’ (eruca sativa). But…let’s let bygones be bygones…and beigels be beigels.

  18. Brick Lane Beigels are a traditional version…try hot salt beef at 2am with a lather of mustard. It’s a preventative hang-over cure.

    And you wouldn’t be in the famous East End bakery if a grumpy Cockney bird wasn’t yelling ‘wan paarnd fifteeh’ at you!

    American bagels are lovely…but what’s the deal with blueberry and all those crazy flavours. Pick it and stick to it, I say!

    Brick Lane all the way for this little duck.

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