Laughing Matters, Opinion

For lack of heft, crumb, and flavour: A manifesto against the Montreal bagel

I still remember my first morning in Montreal, when I found myself in a hungry queue that extended out the door of the St. Viateur bagel shop in Mile End. The line moved fast––unlike those in New York––and I watched hopefully as the freshly-rolled bagels slid into the oven just behind the counter. Could this new bagel outdo the Manhattan one I held so dear? Perhaps, I mused, I am a bagel convert in the making.

I was snapped out of this daydream, however, when charged with the task of choosing my preferred cream cheese from the refrigerator along the wall. My roommate grabbed a tub of Philadelphia plain and I bewilderedly did the same. It was then our turn at the counter where we ordered six bagels, which were tossed in real time––uncut and untoasted––into a brown paper bag and handed to us in haste for the next in line.

Back on the sidewalk, we opened our bag. The bagels were, for lack of a better word, wimpy. They sparked in me the image of a baking day gone wrong; perhaps the yeast had expired. Could they, I gasped inwardly, be gluten free? 

“You’re supposed to dip the bagel in the cream cheese,” my roommate said sceptically. We chuckled. That was absurd. Almost sacrilegious. But we obligingly ate our bagels, like a resigned congregation mourning what was lost.  

In the weeks since that morning at St. Viateur, I have continued what I have grown to call my “Bagel Research.” I have come up with three essential characteristics that prove, with incredible resolution, the inferiority of the Montreal bagel in comparison to its New York counterpart––namely: Heftiness, crumb, and flavour.

The Montreal bagel is worryingly thin. The only synonym that comes to mind beyond

“wimpy” is simply “malnourished.” A bagel is a glorious comestible invention, and should therefore be nothing short of satisfying—a satisfaction that manifests in a New York bagel so beefy that its centre hole has sealed completely shut, and if a hole does still exist, it is packed almost brutally with cream cheese. The Montreal bagel lacks the proper heft in both its physique and in its scant attitude towards cream cheese.

As if its slender French frame is not deficient enough, the Montreal bagel does not deliver

the chewy, springy bite of a well-poached New York Bagel. It tastes—if I may—diluted, like it has passed the expiration date and been hurriedly revived with some tap water and a toaster.

I have found, time and time again, that when defending their home bagel, Montreal locals claim that their bagel has the best crust. But the Montreal bagel, I find, has a crust disproportionately crusty for its sparse bready innards, and whose required baking conditions are partially to blame for these innards’ neither here nor there nature. 

Probably the most off-putting of its three shortcomings is that, frankly, the Montreal bagel tastes bad. On the spectrum of baked goods, there is on the far left, the tang of a good sourdough, and on the far right, the sweetness of a muffin. A good bagel should fall very far left, providing a distinct bready flavour that contrasts its cream cheese stuffing. When I ate my first— and second and third—Montreal bagel, I felt perplexed by what on Earth was wrong with it and why it brought to mind the vivid image of cardboard.

Upon reflection, I realized that its flavour landed on the border of sweetness, though not sweet enough to taste the sweetness, just enough to cancel out the proper bready flavour. It fell grotesquely in the middle of the baked-good spectrum, where nothing should ever fall, leaving its consumer in a state of perturbing cognitive dissonance.

And so I stand loyally at the side of the New York bagel, which holds all the opulence, flavour, chew, cream cheese, heft, and satisfaction that the Montreal bagel lacks. Anyone can try to convince me otherwise but on this, my mind is made and sealed better than a New York bagel—I will not budge.

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