Sunday, January 9, 2011

Miettes '11, Round One

Spotted today during a ramble around, proof that Christmas is over. This has got to be the worst part of the year to be here -- frequently cloudy, rainy, foggy, then wind comes in from the mountains and it's clear but really cold. The first time I visited Montpellier, it was so cold that I was actually yearning for Berlin! Well, in that it was far warmer there. But here we are, ready to start those alleged 300 days of sun, ready for the markets to have something in them besides root vegetables and the odd greenhouse tomato. I come back from the market and think I should take one of those photos I've been posting of what I snagged, but then I think of the colors: mostly brown. Good spinach, though; that's a reliable winter staple, and it's a lovely deep green, and when I can afford them, huge Comice pears, juicy and, if I let them ripen just so, quite tasty, although not as good as the smaller green ones with the red blush. Dunno what they're called, but they're over, too. And the apples of this region...I'm not impressed.

* * *

So I've been buying lunch instead of making it, and, walking towards Gourmet Gulch the other day, I came upon this and muttered beneath my breath "Oh, no. Here we go again."

Crap. I already went through this in Berlin. Out of nowhere, a fad for bagels. And the "bagels" start appearing in the stores and I just shake my head and mutter that all that is torioidal is not bagel. This place, on the rue d'Aiguillerie, specializes in bagel sandwiches, expensive (€5.50-€5.80) concoctions with New Yorkish names like Rockefeller, Coney Island, Broadway and Staten Island (Staten Island?). The combinations of ingredients look random, and a plain old smoked-salmon-and-cream-cheese isn't one of them. This, of course, is because there's no such thing as cream cheese in France.

Still, in the baskets there on the right-hand side of the big window, there's "bagels natures," at €1.50 apiece, to take home. So I did, foolishly. Folks, for it to be a bagel, it not only has to be toroid, it not only can have an egg-wash glaze, but you have to boil them! Yup, sorry; that's where the texture comes from. The dense chewiness, the thing that makes a bagel a bagel, it comes from a quick bath in boiling water. Trust me on this: I've made them at home. Now, I know there's a huge debate about what else in the water makes the great taste, and that the comparitive purity of New York water supposedly makes its bagels unparallelled in the world, but the bottom line is, you do have to boil them. And this joint doesn't.

So far, the only slightly acceptable bagels I've found around here are in the surprisingly large kosher section of my local supermarket, where you can get four bagels (sesame or poppy-seed) for €3, sealed in pairs in some sort of protective pack. They're not all that good, but they're better than these.

And I do wish Bagel & U success, because the crappy Berlin bagels were eventually followed by some not-bad bagels, and they, in turn attracted very good bagels indeed, supplied by a chain called Bagel Station. Elsewhere in Germany, an even better chain, Bagel Brothers, appeared in Leipzig, Lübeck, and other cities.

Of course, it's not like France doesn't already have a maddening profusion of bread. The bagel's texture puts it in a separate category, but I've sometimes been taking my noontime meal at this place (picture was shot today, Sunday, so it's not open), despite a couple of good bakeries practically in my back yard.

Even when it's open there's not all that much to see, but it has a large selection of different breads, unbeatable sandwiches (may I suggest the chorizo-and-cheese panini), excellent savory pastries, including mini-tarts with a variety of fillings, and, if you're very lucky, a Roquefort-and-walnut fougasse (a local flat pastry, either made flaky or dense and chewy, with stuff, often duck cracklings, mixed into it) that is just superb. My guess is their breads are just as good.

(Bagel & U seems to have a Facebook page, but I couldn't find an address. Easy enough to find in real life, though, if you want to. La Boulangerie de l'Aiguillerie, 36 rue de l'Aiguillerie, no phone I can find).

* * *

I had business at Ikea the other day, a new reading lamp so I could put the not-very-good one back in the bedroom where it was intended to live, so I headed down to the Odysseum on the tram. It's the end of the line, so as I waited to head back I saw a bunch of guys in black hanging out at the building where the drivers go for coffee after a run. They all got on our tram, and I was surprised to see that after we were on our way, they fanned out throughout the car, checking tickets, running them through little hand-held electronic devices. They came to me, and, of course, mine didn't work, no matter how many times the guy ran it through. Visibly chagrinned, he had to resort to the analog method: turning the card over and seeing the date and time clearly stamped on the ticket. Duh.

But it was interesting: I don't ride the tram much, preferring to walk to what I need to do, most of which is pretty local. I've never seen this done before, and I'd wondered if our old Berlin tradition of Schwarzfahren, riding without a ticket (yes, I know the word also means hitchhiking, for some reason), could exist here. Apparently it does; a few stops down the line, they grabbed some hapless youth and escorted him off the tram.

The trip also took me past a construction site where the Tram 3 line, which will open next year, veers off down towards the beach. We're about 15km from the Mediterranean, and this new line will deliver it to us for the price of a tram ticket. I actually have never been to the beach here, but now that it's winter, it might be the right time to figure out how to get there.

For the moment, though, I'm staying pretty much right here in The Slum, doing this and that. More news as it happens. Don't hold your breath.


  1. I introduced my French husband to bagels last year, he loves them very much. But of course you have to have cream cheese, and here in the country of hundreds of types of cheese, no cream cheese. It's a cruel world.

    And I never knew that bagels had to be boiled. Good to know. Now wouldn't you think all these 'bagel' places would google, 'how to make a bagel' before opening up?

  2. bad bagels are not always followed by good bagels. Einstein Bagels, a chain, is prospering with their brown doughnot-type bagels (they dont resemble a bagel in looks much less taste). But the artisanal bagel store on West 5th and Guadaloupe, is long gone. The owners were Jewish Cubans. These were real, boiled, genuine bagels. Whole Foods at 6th & Lamar carried the Cuban bagels until the place closed. I don't remember the name. It used to be popular to have sunday brunch there. Ou sont les neiges d'antan ?

    Mike Eisenstadt
    Austin Texas

  3. To clarify, there was Jumbo Hot Bagels on the Drag, which was co-owned by my neighbor across the street. The Cubans did make great bagels, but I don't believe the Cubans lasted long enough to make it into WF: that was Jumbo Hot. I used to grab a bagel sandwich sometimes from the Cubans when I worked at the Statesman -- and the Statesman was still around the corner from them. Long ago indeed!

  4. Thanks for the shot of my old square. Last time I saw the lady on the fountain she had an empty Heineken bottle on her head. Bet the sculptor had not idea how useful his work would be.

  5. Hm, I want to get on the next train (ok, let's be realistic - there is "weather" at the moment in Germany, let's say "plane" instead) to London and pop down Brick Lane for a bagel or 5 at 3am.

  6. Do us a favor and Rosinenbomb the Place de la Comédie with a few of those, Dag, on your way back. Just let me know when to be there with my butterfly net. (Nice to see you here!)

  7. Ed, we will soon have cream cheese in France. I saw that on TV a few weeks ago. They call it Philadelphia or Philadelphia cream....

  8. I know: I saw it at the Inno the other day! This is the Real Deal. So now we need some decent bagels.


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