No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bagel Magic

Bagels, in Montreal, are like magic. They serve as a source of local pride, since the flavor, density, and texture of them is unique to this area, and we're all certain that uniqueness makes them better. Documentaries have been made on the quality of the bagel, world bagel contests have been held proving its superiority. The Montreal bagel is sweeter, denser, and smaller than the more commonly tasted New York style bagel. In fact, these discs of comfort are so coveted, they've even traveled to space with recent astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, who was raised in Montreal, and journeyed skyward and beyond twice in 2008 with a bag of Montreal bagels in tow each time.

The thing about them is, first of course, they taste loverly. But, more than that, they're an experience. The bagel is hand-brushed with honey and seeds, and cooked in an open wood burning oven, pushed inside the heat on a long wooden flat, all in full view of the customer. The uneven heat of the oven speckles the bagel in dark and golden spots. When the bread is finished, it's pulled out to the open again on the same long wooden flat and tossed into an enormous woodbin where the rounds are scooped warm into bags for the customers that walk in at a regular pace. The magic costs only $0.60 a bagel, but the point, by now, should be clear that the monetary expense is meaningless in the face of a gift of such starchy joy.

My friend Kate visited my small mountain town in the U.S. Southwest back in February and brought with her a dozen of my favorite, St. Viateur bagels. (You should realize, I've just outed myself politically. There is a debate between St. Viateur and Fairmont bagels. By announcing my favorite I've positioned myself in the midst of a heated battle.) After the climb to 10,000 ft. cabin pressure, the bagels she flew southwest were much denser than usual, but the taste still raised a simultaneous melancholy and joy in me that is irreplaceable.

Today I am back in Montreal. Kate and I walked across the city in the warm humidity and stopped into St. Viateur bagel to purchase a single bagel off the long wooden flat. In front of us three generations of women, and their toddlers, stood ordering a couple dozen bagels and various spreads to go with. The man at the cash handled their orders while Kate and I stood behind waiting, happy at the smell of the shop. The bagel cook, I noticed, was becoming cranky muttering about the time these women were taking, until finally he asked me how many I wanted. "One", I responded, with my loonie in hand. He put the wooden flat in the oven and pulled out two hot bagels, "I'll give you two. No cost." He said, "you'll grow old waiting to order." Then he demanded the man at the cash stop serving the customers in front of us to instead open a bag for the cook to drop two fresh, hot bagels into, no cost.

Such a beautiful city.

What to wear when ordering bagels? An Agyness Deyn, if you're Kate--that is ultra short hair with a hat, silver-gray skinny jeans, and a white t-shirt. Or, a blue, ill-fitting Lanvin, ruched-sided, sleeveless t-shirt dress, scrunched in the back and wrapped with a studded belt to fit, if you're me.


  1. important note: that lanvin dress is an electric royal blue, absolutely traffic-stopping. besides the city of wicked bagels, montreal is also the city of cat-calls and oggling, and one can't place all of the responsibility for those free bagels on the women taking a long time at placing their order...