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our daily bread

10.07.2014

As far as I can see, bagel pride in NYC is akin to that surrounding the burger in Southern California. Like the burger, it is a regionally defining food, consumed by blue and white collar alike, a daily or weekly ritual for many residents. Like the burger, it is also ridiculous, in the sense that thousands of people happily consume what is basically poorly made, badly crafted food. A similar myth of universality surrounds both the burger and the bagel: they are the manna of the everyman, cheap to purchase yet deliciously filling, available quick (or ‘fast’) in efficient locations, no-nonsense service, All-American branding, beef and bread.

Yet, the price is so cheap not because of any inherent egalitarianism, but because the ingredients and preparation are poor. Just as one is baffled when exiled California friends claim to love returning west to go to the local In-N-Out (an apt name for how your body attempts to handle the meal), so too is one in disbelief when NYC friends claim to haunt the ‘best bagel shop in town’.

Now, I have had some good bread in my life, and doughy, relatively plain balls smothered in one of the many varieties of the first cousin of ketchup does not make the grade. Great burgers can be had all over the West, but they are generally in good restaurants and cost $10 or more. They are made with high-quality beef and uniquely-fashioned buns and condiments crafted with skill. For those that can’t afford it, a basic taco is better (and better for you) than a bagel or fast-food burger. For just a little more money, a cured meat sandwich in the Italian style or French baguette or good ol’ American on rye will get you a far better comestible. The milkshakes aren’t horrible at In-N-Out (Proverbs 3:5), and the next time you splurge for a bagel with lox, eat the fish by itself.

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