Monday, October 13, 2014

Paris Journal 1: The Baguette vs. the Bagel

the hole in the donut (photo: Evan-Amos)
Bagels have come to Paris. They’ve probably actually been here for some time. Yelp lists numerous sites if you are looking for Mecca. Amongst them are Ari’s bagels with four locations at Beaurepaire, Bastille, Chatelet, Saint-Martin and Saint-Philippe. Then if you don’t cry for Yelp, there’s a place called simply Bagel Store in the old Jewish quarter, Le Marais, which you might stop in on your way to the Centre Pompidou. But in reality the baguette is for Parisians (and the French in general), what the bagel is for New Yorkers (and these days Americans in general). Is the donut to the bagel what the madeleine is to the baguette? That’s a little like asking how many angels can dance on head of a pin. Actually, however, a better exercise is to compare and contrast baguettes and bagels, as a way of distinguishing the American and French sensibilities. For starters you don’t toast a baguette. No one has  surveyed the matter, but anecdotal evidence points to the fact that even fresh bagels are toasted about 50% of the time—an odd state of affairs since with the amount of wine they imbibe the French are more likely to be toasted than their American counterparts. This may partially be explained by the fact that a good baguette tends to be treasured precisely because it has just come from the oven and the taste is tantamount to the crunchy crackling feeling of a fresh toasted bagel (not to say that the freshly baked bagel is not an equally valued item across the pond). So what can we conclude? All rather than some like it hot for starters, but the difference between the French and the Americans--if we can extrapolate their tastes in a favored carb as an exemplification of character--is that the French are hot, fast and soft inside while Americans are certainly hot and fast, though they also tend to be clean cut at their centers and a little hard around the edges. Could this crustiness be the result of the fact that Americans are afraid of becoming like the hole in the donut?

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