New York City Bagel Pretension: A Metaphysical Conundrum

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How do we know that this bagel is, in fact, a bagel?

How do we know that this bagel is, in fact, a bagel?

Have you ever thought about the metaphysical implications of believing New York City bagels are the best bagels on earth? Managing Editor Betsy Ladyzhets has, and her findings are more concerning than they are comforting.

A couple of weeks ago, I got into a discussion on Twitter about New York City bagels. One of my friends from home, whose writing I had been editing, had posted a couple of screenshots of our conversation on her Google Doc, in which she aggravated me by suggesting that the main characters in her story all ate their bagels dry. Her tweet was captioned, “i love knowing exactly how to torment a new yorker.” One of our mutual friends (this one a former New Yorker now living elsewhere in the US) replied in solidarity with me… and, long story short, I ended up agreeing to mail her half a dozen bagels from my favorite bagel place. I purchased the bagels yesterday and am sending them off this afternoon. To say my far-off friend is excited about this development would be like saying the staff at Absolute Bagel are only nice.

But this whole experience has left me wondering: what exactly is so good about NYC bagels, and why do I care so much about proving their superiority?

I’ve heard a few folk tales, in the past year and a half I’ve lived here. There’s something special in the New York tap water; the bodegas here boil their bagels with a particular method unequaled in other parts of the country; fairies in doughy costumes dance through all the bagel shops each night sprinkling their ovens with perfect bagel powder. I’m sure anyone reading this has been told similar tales. And it’s hard to deny that, once you’ve tasted a bagel from Absolute, fresh and toasted with your choice of cream cheese, it’s hard to buy a bagel from any other city in the world without feeling as though you need to throw up in your mouth a little bit.

Still, part of me can’t help postulating that the main source of this New York belief in our bagels comes from… well, New York belief in our bagels. Everyone who lives here has been societally conditioned to uphold NY bagels as the ultimate bagels for so long, trying one and finding it wanting would be enough for any New Yorkers who overheard your less-than-exemplary words to bring on the tar and feathers. Great bagels are just a part of New York, like disgusting subways and a hatred of tourism. Even though I’m not a New Yorker by birth, a year and a half is apparently enough for New York has the best bagels to be ingrained in my mind enough that I would probably eat horse shit if someone at Absolute told me it was their freshest multigrain bagel.

And then I wonder, how do I know the bagels I’m eating are even bagels at all? What are bagels, if not dough for bread reshaped and boiled and baked into a strange circle with a hole in the middle? And what is bread, if not flour and water and yeast combined into a starchy substance that the human digestion system can process? And what are flour and water and yeast, if not rearrangements of the same molecules that can be found inside all living organisms? And what are living organisms, if not creatures built from the evolutionary processes that once brought forth the yeast fungi that cause the rising of dough in bread?

Maybe I’m not eating these bagels, after all. Maybe the bagels are eating me. Or maybe there is no bagel and no me but an expansive world of matter and energy swirling across the cosmos in infinitely indescribable forms, and all of the things we think we can see or touch or eat are only figments of the imagination of some incorporeal being in a dimension beyond human comprehension, and all worldly definitions are spinning out of our reach at a rapidly accelerating rate until all that remains in what we call Earth is the dust of speeches on New York bagels too pretentious to properly degrade.

I don’t know what’s real anymore. But I do know that I’ll be back at Absolute next weekend to order half a dozen bagels and half a pound of cream cheese – I can’t conceive of buying my breakfast anywhere else.

Breakfast food or philosophical conundrum? via Betsy Ladyzhets

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1 Comment

  1. the friend from home

    I feel like it's relevant to mention that I now live in Boston

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