Sunday, April 17, 2011

Going Cold Turkey Tomorrow: Giving up bagels for Passover

I always loved bagels. New York bagels to be precise, dating back to my childhood when my dad took me grocery shopping for our family’s weekly bagels and lox Sunday brunch. Last stop on our rounds was always the New York Bagel Factory (in Detroit!) on the corner of 7 Mile Rd. and Schaeffer.
The NewYork Bagel Factory, a hole-in-the wall, barebones storefront, was called a factory instead of shop because of a little brick oven and boiling pots in the back. Called New York because bagels come in styles, and New York are boiled, dense and chewy. Not like Montreal’s slightly sweet or Toronto challah-textured.. Yecchh. Not worth mentioning.
You would never have seen a dundried tomato, blueberry, chocolate chip or basil pesto bagel in those days.  “I should be against the law,”  my father said in later years when they hit the market.  Coming from such a quiet, peaceful man, I was a little taken back when he added, “Whoever invented them should be shot.”
If there wasn’t a line-up outside the bagel factory when we got there, we’d go straight in, cross the creeky, cornmeal-dusted plank wood floors and walk four steps to the counter. Upon our entry, Moishe, the round, elderly, Yiddish-speaking owner would nod to me, then look at my dad and say “Nu? Charlie.” It wasn’t much, but enough to get a conversation going about family, even world events.
I would salivate standing there, the sweet yeasty smell in the store was heavenly, beyond heavenly if a fresh batch of hot bagels was coming out of the ovens. “
"Don’t even think about it,” my dad would say without even looking at me, knowing I was watching lustfully as the sweaty baker dumped dozens into the bins. "You know what your grandmother used to say…”

"Yea, Dad, I know. ‘Never eat a hot bagel straight from the oven. It will turn to cement in your stomach. You’ll get a terrible stomach ache.’”  

It was a little game we played. My dad knew I didn’t know my grandmother, so couldn’t really remember what she said. He just wanted to keep stories about her alive. I was glad he did. I liked hearing everything he could tell me about my grandparents. I never met either of my mother’s and my dad’s mother Bela died when I was three, followed by my grandfather Sam when I was five.

I have only one, vague memory of Bubbe Bela, It’s such a storybook scenario, though, I wonder if I made it up.

I’m standing in her living room. Six different bowls of candy in cut class dishes are spread on a table in front of me. My grandmother keeps telling me to take as many candies as I want. “Go, stuff your pockets, too. Just don't tell your mother.”

Moishe would stand behind the big glass bins filled with different types of bagels and specialty buns. My dad would place his order by pointing his index finger and, giving instructions as he moved from left to right along the row. Moishe shuffled slowly along on the other side, filling up big brown paper bags.
“Three bialy        
“One onion pletzl 
"Four poppyseed
“Three egg
“Four sesame. All crisp.

When my Dad stopped ordering, Moishe had the same response. He’d point to the bins my dad had skipped and say “Always the same Charlie? No cinnamon?  

“It’s chazerai,”  my father, the purist, would respond. The twinkle, ever in his eye, indicated there must be something wrong with Moishe for even asking. “Who needs cinnamon on a bagel?”

It was a statement, not a question. No one. They aren’t real bagels.

Moishe and I would laugh, my dad would pay, and as we turned to leave, Moishe would inevitably give me a wink. It was code,

When we came home, I’d bring the bag of bagels in from the car, and announce to my mother and sisters that while they were getting the lox, cream cheese, smoked fish, cheeses and cut-up tomatoes and cucumbers prepared for the dining room table, “I’ll put the bagels on a platter and bring them in.”

I knew that a delicious, chewy, moist and still warm cinnamon and sugar-studded bagel was waiting for me at the bottom of the bag, mny weekly gift from Moishe.


  1. "Dunkin Bagels"by the African-American guitarist Slim Gaillard with gefilte fish, pickled herring, and “lox-a-rooni" too! It'll help you through this bagel-less week:

  2. I resent the abrupt dismissal of Toronto bagels - obviously, you don't know where to shop.