I’m a Jew, which means bagels are practically my birthright, though I would have fallen for them with or without the religio-cultural implications. Growing up, Sunday was bagel day at my house. My sister and I hopped in the car with Dad bright and early (we’d probably already been up watching Kids Incorporated anyway) to do the weekly grocery shopping before touching down at Morristown Deli for our dozen assorted bagels, cream cheese (plain and chive), thin-sliced jarlsberg and lox. In those days, Danziger’s bakery was conveniently located next store. They’d give us each a free mini cookie—buttery and crumbly, chocolate-dipped or coated in rainbow sprinkles—every time we came in. (Most weeks I’d beg my dad, rarely successfully, for one of the gigantic yellow-frosted smiley faces.) Then it was back home, where Mom was waiting, to slice the bagels, prepare the spread and eat ourselves into a carb coma. My usual: egg bagel, slice of jarlsberg on each half, toasted. The melted cheese bubbled and dripped down the sides, inevitably burning the roof of my mouth because I was too impatient not to sink my teeth in the second it was out of the toaster.
I still equate Sundays with bagels. My neighborhood place is a real hole in the wall, but I’ve never had a better bagel—they’re always fresh out of the oven, chewy and crusty and warm. I woke up last weekend with a monster craving, and it killed me that I couldn’t have what I really wanted. In an attempt to keep my tradition alive, I picked up a package of Udi’s gluten-free bagels and popped one in the toaster. I tried to keep an open mind, but knew, even before taking that first bite, that this impostor would disappoint. It was firm on the outside—not stale exactly, but you know how fresh bagels have that way of smooshing a little in your grasp? Yeah, this one didn’t do that. The inside was worse: Where was the soft bready goodness, that hallmark of any bagel worth its dough? Before spreading anything on it, I gingerly bit in: bland, very dry, not chewy. I slathered on peanut butter, hoping that would enhance the overall taste. It did not.
The thought that I may never again enjoy a real bagel is too depressing for words, and I fear there’s no gf substitute out there that won’t make me want to hurl. I really wish I didn’t know what I was missing.