I must admit I was repulsed the first time I bit into a bagel. A weird snack tasting of dough, I told my mother in an email. It is neither sweet nor savoury, it goes soft when you warm it in a microwave oven, it becomes slightly crunchy if you toast it. You eat it with cream cheese, I continued (in her reply she asked me what cream cheese was – I still haven’t answered her). I read somewhere that you have to eat something you dislike eight times, and you will begin to like it. I can’t remember if it took the bagel eight attempts to win me over, but the bagel has managed to cross over to the list of foods I enjoy eating.
Let me tell you right away I consider myself to be some sort of a puff connoisseur. I visit bakeries in every neighbourhood I frequent and take copious notes (in my head, of course). “Pastry too flaky.” “Leaves taste of cardboard in mouth.” “Scrambled egg filling, not hard boiled.” I think every street worth its tar needs a bakery. This is an easy enough criterion to satisfy. All those bakeries with acronyms for names – RM, JM, SM – I know you. Or the bakeries with names that make me think their owners might be Anglophiles – I am coming for you as well. Today, I walked into Old Madras Baking Company*, which is (a) not old – it is instead one of those new places that try their best to look old, (b) pretentious in my opinion, because calling something “…Madras…” doesn’t make it cool (Yes, That Madras Place, I am looking at you), and (c) a bakery where a muffin might set you back by Rs. 100. But it is also where you can ask for focaccia bread and a danish, and not feel snooty while doing so. And it is here that I spotted the bagel**. We have two types, volunteered the man behind the counter. “Plain and everything-in.” Everything-in bagel with cream cheese then.
It has been too long, I said to the bagel. Over two years. I took a bite. Slightly crunchy, cream cheese oozing out, the edge of the bagel poked the roof of my mouth, almost like what I remembered. I travelled to a place in my mind, where I was a hungry graduate student, waiting for the free bagels in my department on Friday mornings.
Memories are delicious.
*If you’ve been reading this blog, you might like to know I went alone (insert smirk here).
**The bagel sets you back by Rs. 100 too.