Wednesday, May 23, 2012
The Bagelization of Paris
Some years ago finding a hamburger in Paris was akin to finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. Nowadays they're all over the place, at prices that would make most Americans go back to hot dogs, but not at all unusual on many casual menus.
The latest American food to hit Paris is the bagel, and as in the early days of hamburgerization, while you can find it, you may not want to eat it. The French don't yet have the bagel down.
A couple of weeks ago we had some French friends over for brunch, which in itself was a novelty for them. While le brunch has become ubiquitous in trendy cafés on weekends, at amazingly high prices for strange mixes of orange juice, eggs and salad, the traditional Sunday lunch still rules in French homes.
We decided we were good enough friends with this family to share the secret of bagels, lox and cream cheese with them. Now where to find the bagels? As far as I could tell, it was impossible to buy fresh bagels anywhere in Paris. Yes, they might have them as sandwiches on the menus of restaurants, but no one was willing to sell me the naked bagels by the dozen or even half dozen. I found them frozen at Picard, the incredible frozen food chain, or packaged in fours at le Grand Epicerie at the Bon Marché department store, and even packaged and imported from England (now there's assurance of an authentic bagel!) at Monoprix.
I finally gave in and bought the packaged ones, which were passable when toasted and heaped with real Philadelphia cream cheese (now available at Monoprix!) and really good Scottish smoked salmon (no Nova belly lox here, I'm afraid). Served with sliced tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers and a side dish of scrambled eggs, le brunch americain was a success with nos amis français.
Two days later I found myself in the Marais with another friend who had a craving for some cheesecake from the Jewish bakery on rue des Rosiers. As I waited with him in line, I glanced at the breads and saw, next to what they called a bagel but was in fact a tiny challah, a sign that read "Bagel Americain". They looked right. I bought one. I tasted it. Yes! There are now real bagels in Paris.
And for those of you who can't live without your pancakes for breakfast, they're working on that.