Breakfast in a New York Minute
The versatile bagel: the ideal breakfast for a fast-paced city that never sleeps.

Breakfast in a New York Minute

City hustle and bustle doesn’t come much more hectic than that of New York; you only need to stop and stand still for a moment during rush hour to appreciate the torrent of activity whooshing past. All this haste demands a speedy feed to match, and nothing says morning in Manhattan like a bagel grabbed fresh, hot… and fast. 

Whether it’s devoured on the journey to work, or nibbled ‘al desko’ while reading emails, a bagel is the go-to first meal of the day for countless New Yorkers. As much an intrinsic part of my commute as swiping my MetroCard at the turnstile just so (thus avoiding the faux pas of causing impatient fellow subway riders to pile up behind me), my workday startup sequence isn’t complete until I place my carefully considered order at the bakery.

The New York bagel was the first of its kind available in the United States. It appeared thanks to the city’s immigrant Jewish community, with today’s breakfast stalwart tracing its origins back to the Ashkenazi Jews of Poland. Having come a long way from the old country — as did my ancestors from those same roots — these bagels are larger and chubbier than the mass-produced varieties you’ll now find the world over. And unlike many things I’ve enjoyed eating since childhood, which seem to have magically shrunk as a rule, they’ve grown steadily over time with the average bagel’s size doubling over the last century or so.

New York Bagel

They’re inconsistent in shape, round-ish, with holes in the centre that range from clearly defined to nearly nonexistent. A proper New York-style bagel is hand-rolled, allowed to proof slowly, kettle boiled, and then baked. It has a shiny lightly crusted exterior, with just the right chew inside. When it’s said that something in the local water makes them difficult to replicate elsewhere it may be true to some degree; but not so much for what’s in the water, than for what’s not. New York City has a very soft water supply, notable for lower mineral concentrations than most other places in the US (with less calcium and magnesium). This may indeed be part of a superior bagel’s secret, however, there’s a bit more to the science behind it.

So much for what makes them so good — back to the serious business of placing a breakfast order in NYC. I may not always be in the mood to ponder it too deeply first thing in the morning, but with a little imagination you don’t have to limit yourself to ‘the usual’. An ideal blank canvas for whatever you want to put on them, the bagels themselves come in flavours from poppy to pumpernickel, sesame to salt; even cinnamon raisin and blueberry. For the purist, only plain will do; while for the indecisive, the ‘everything’ bagel eases the agony of choice.

Whichever I select, the next question is what topping to add to create my bagel masterpiece. Standing in the bakery line debating my options, the Midtown traffic flashes by outside. Early sunlight dances on the sidewalk as it bounces off mirrored skyscrapers, there’s a steady hum of customers coming and going, and I can smell the latest batch in the oven. I tell myself there’s nothing wrong with my classic fallback; plain cream cheese (word to the wise: unless you ask for ‘just a schmear‘ — a light scrape — prepare yourself for what’s likely to be a very generous application).

Maybe I’ll treat myself to scallion cream cheese today; I’ve no clients to see or breathe on. With payday around the corner, might I make it more luxurious by adding some paper-thin slices of nova? Or perhaps I should opt for walnut-raisin cheese spread instead to celebrate Wednesday? Wait, how about peanut butter and strawberry jam? On the other hand, a freshly made egg-and-bacon sandwich in a just-baked bagel sounds pretty good right about now…

New York Bagel

I wait my turn, nearly ready to finalise my decision and… “Next!” Snapping out of my reverie, I make a quick call: ”Large iced coffee light and sweet, egg-onion with a schmear, please”. I watch as the latter is deftly made to order. The golden yellow bagel is sliced in two horizontally and the smooth tangy cheese is slathered on its open face. It’s slapped back together and cut vertically into two halves, then white greaseproof paper is expertly folded around the sandwich in an embrace that leaves a neat crease across the middle. Easy to open, easy to hold, easy to love.

Though their portability has made them ever-popular, when the full-throttle Big Apple pace eventually slows, bagels aren’t just for grabbing on a headlong sprint into the office. Included as part of family gatherings, invited along to mark celebrations, or as an essential attendee at a leisurely Sunday brunch, a bag of still-warm bagels is always a welcome addition.

When I was a kid, it was my Dad’s job to buy baked goods on these occasions. I’d accompany him, assisting in making the crucial 13 picks to create a well-balanced baker’s dozen (at the “good bagel place” in the neighbourhood, as designated by Mom). Our baked goods were handed over in a bulging carrier bag emblazoned with a print which cheerfully said THANK YOU and went on to express the hope that we would HAVE A NICE DAY🙂. Our precious cargo would be nestled in a brown paper bag inside, ready to take its place as the guest of honour at our breakfast table.


Hungry for more?

Emily Cathcart

Resonate Team

From her base in Ireland, Emily Cathcart was delighted to join Resonate as a Content Manager and has been revelling in the opportunity to collaborate with writers worldwide ever since. Emily enjoys encouraging authors through the creation process and also helping non-writers to tell their tales — all with Resonate’s ethical principles in mind. When she isn’t busy commissioning or editing, she can be found, camera in hand, seeking out-of-the-way discoveries for her own site that’s literally All About Dublin. And when Emily’s not working on any/all of the above, she’s writing articles and photo essays as a freelance journalist for publications from boutique magazines to national newspapers.

Time to Read:  4 Minutes
Resonate Team: Emily Cathcart
20 June 2023
Category:
Local Stories - Food and Drink

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