Through a series of eight comics, Seattle graphic artist Sophie Reingold tells the story of her Jewish family’s deep-rooted love for the humble bagel.
My family has a love for bagels. Let me rephrase that: My family has a bagel OBSESSION. My paternal family is Jewish and grew up in New York, the bagel capital of the United States. Consequently, bagels have always been an important part of their lives.
After my dad moved to the West Coast for work, the rest of the family followed, and brought with them their passion for bagels. As Jewish New Yorkers moved out the West Coast, bagels became more than just a beloved food item – they became a cultural celebration around which our family gathers.
For the Reingold family, the relationship between man and bagel is a sacred one: an unbreakable bond that begins at birth. As a kid, my dad fondly remembers receiving bagels as a treat for running errands with his mom. My grandma would drag him and his brothers to the Golden Horseshoe strip mall in New Rochelle, New York, to go shopping: any young kid’s worst nightmare.
After what seemed like hours, they would be rewarded with a fresh warm bagel from the bagel store next door to eat on the car ride home. The bagels were so perfect that you could eat them plain – they didn’t need any cream cheese or lox or even butter! My dad recalls, “They were so good. Now whenever I get a bagel I always have the hope that it’s going to be fresh and hot like those ones.”
Because of these cherished memories, bagels are a staple in my family. We always have them on hand, much like how other families may always have flour or milk. Whenever my dad goes to the bagel store, he will purchase an obscene number of bagels. Any bagels that are not eaten that day will be sliced up and placed on the designated bagel shelf in our freezer to toast for later consumption.
According to my Dad:
“A frozen Jewish bagel is a thousand times better than a fresh, crap one.”
Having grown up in New York with access to authentic Jewish bagels, my family is very particular about what types of bagels are acceptable. Generic grocery store bagels are disdainfully referred to as “bagel-shaped rolls”within the Reingold family and are not allowed to cross the threshold of the house.
The Real Jewish Bagel ™
Light and crispy on the outside – it should make a delicate crunch when you bite in.
The inside should be substantial: not too fluffy but also not too dense. It should be chewy, but not a workout for your jaw.
Lots of small air holes but no gaping holes in the middle. A bagel with big air holes is like a baked potato that is all skin – oy gevalt!
On a good bagel, the middle hole is almost closed because it is so puffed up.
The BEST bagel is still warm when you get it, and it’s so good you can eat it all by itself.
My family is also very persnickety about bagel flavors. The only acceptable bagel flavors are as follows: plain, sesame, poppy seed, everything, onion, and garlic. A blueberry bagel? Get outta town. A rainbow bagel? No way, José. A cinnamon raisin bagel? You might as well be eating a pile of decomposing goat intestines.
“She said she wanted to try a traditional Jewish bagel so she went to Katz’s Deli and – get this – ordered cinnamon raisin!”
My dad’s bagel location of choice is always changing. He is willing to drive many miles to obtain his bagels. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he willingly fought off an army of rabid raccoons for the sake of bagels. His current reviews of local bagel establishments are as follows:
ELTANA BAGELS: Bagels are not great, but cream cheese is good (the lox cream cheese in particular!). Bagels are too small and not soft enough. These bagels would be better for a game of horseshoe than for eating.
NOAH’S BAGELS: Terrible! Bagel-shaped rolls! Too soft and fluffy. A disgrace to the good Noah name.
QFC BAGELS: Too insubstantial. They have no heft to them. It’s like biting into a Twinkie!
EINSTEIN’S BAGELS: Not terrible … if you’re in the middle of nowhere and need to eat a bagel. A little too soft. Not as bad as Noah’s Bagels.
BAGEL OASIS: The best bagel in Seattle! A little small, but worth it!
BLAZING BAGELS: Good, but too small. A pretty solid representation of a classic Jewish bagel.
BIG APPLE BAGELS: Quite good! Larger than Bagel Oasis and decent overall texture. But the center holes are too big! So there’s too much outside and not enough inside. And there’s not enough room for toppings!
In the end, the bagel is important not for its physical properties, but because it is what brings our family together. For family gatherings, casual get-togethers or even special occasions, the Reingold family sits around the table to have brunch. (Really this is just breakfast, but a true Reingold is not awake before 10 a.m.). Here we chat, reminisce, tell stories and share our lives with one another.
And of course, eat our bagels.