Alright, so I know it’s a bit weird to blog about one of Judaism’s most famous leavened breads during Passover (which, for all the non-jews out there, is a holiday where you abstain from leavened bread), but I’m not the best Jew, so this isn’t entirely out of character.
There are a few origin stories for the bagel. One, a myth that has since been debunked, tells the tale of a baker in Vienna in 1683, who created a bread shaped like a stirrup, in honor of King John III Sobieski of Poland, who prevented the Turks from taking over the city. This story even claims that the word bagel comes from the German word for stirrup, bugel. Though this story held sway for many years, we now know that it is totally false, since the Yiddish word beygl can be found in a 1610 document of rules for a Jewish community in Krakow. The rules state that bagels were to be given to women in childbirth as a gift. It’s believed that the bagel actually originated in South Germany, where it was named beugel, or bracelet. It then moved into Poland, where, some sources say, it was used as an alternative to the obwarzanek, a very similar bread, that was associated with Lent. Whether or not this is true, the bagel has quite a history in Poland. In the shtetls, hawkers sold bagels out of baskets or on long sticks, and were required to have a license. Even the illegal selling of bagels occurred, mostly by children with widowed mothers, though if they were caught, the police would often beat them and take away their goods.
However the bagel originated, with the diaspora of the Jews, it spread to Western Europe and the east coast of America, where it found a stronghold. Many Jews found employment selling bagels in their new cities. These days, the bagel is one of the more well known Jewish foods, and is intensely associated with New York. In fact, New Yorkers claim that they actually make the very best bagels, thanks to the high quality of the water. They even call their plain bagels “water bagels.” Another variety of bagels is the Montreal bagel, which is made with malt and is blanched in water with honey.
Bagels, in addition to being a famed Jew-food, also hold a lot of significance in Jewish culture. The shape of bagels symbolizes the circle of life; the loop of a bagel has no beginning and no end. Even more, they were considered to be a good luck token and it was thought they could fend off the evil eye. For this reason, it has held meaning in ceremonies that are life cycle events, like circumcisions, during childbirth (as mentioned above), and funerals. And as much of Jewish humor revolves around food, you can bet there are bagel jokes…namely “a bagel is a donut with rigor mortis.”
But really, while all of this bagel history is interesting, what is more interesting is how delicious they are. Bagels are made from an enriched dough with flour, water and yeast, though these days many people add eggs as well. The dough is then rolled out and shaped into the familiar rings, and are left to rise briefly. In order to get the fantastic crusty outside with the delightfully chewy center, the dough rings are blanched quickly in boiling water, and, after being drained, are then baked to bagel-y perfection. Of course, bagels don’t retain their freshness for very long, which is where that rigor mortis joke comes in!
But what really makes bagels so great are their ability to make delicious sandwiches. While much of bagel cuisine revolves around cream cheese and smoked salmon, the bagel is truly a versatile bread. Really, you could throw anything between a halved bagel, and chances are, it’d be awesome. Even better, is that the bagel is a very sturdy bread, so you can easily make open face sandwiches! Of the photos above, the sandwich ones are from Tompkins Square Bagels in New York City, which was around the corner from where my brother used to live, and was a place that necessitated at least two visits per trip to New York. The first open face bagel is a homemade sandwich, with lox from Zabar’s, and the second two are from The Wood in Los Angeles, a cute restaurant, and this, in my opinion, is the star of their menu.
But however you eat your bagel, (or for that matter, whether you’re a Jew or not!), bagels are definitely a part of both the sandwich and the breakfast culture of America. You can get a bagel with cream cheese at almost any grab and go breakfast place, and even many lunch places: Dunkin Donuts will put any of their sandwiches on a bagel for you. And these days, you can get just about any flavor of bagel you want, from plain to blueberry, to pumpernickel. Which really just gives you more options for your sandwiches.
Well, it’s been quite a hiatus, but I’m back, and starting up again with one of my favorite sandwiches…the lobster roll.
Let’s begin with a bit of lobster history! There are actually quite a few species of lobster, but culinarily speaking, there are two that really matter. Lobsters are actually found all over the world, but the two we eat most are from each side of the Atlantic Ocean: the American lobster, and the European lobster. In fact, lobsters have been a part of the human diet as far back as the Greeks and Romans! For our purposes, let’s stick with the lobster we all know and love, from the westside of the Atlantic.
When the Americas began to be populated, lobsters were overwhelmingly plentiful, and not considered a delicacy. As it became a part of our diet, it was actually seen as the opposite: only the poor, prisoners, and indentured servants ate lobster…and they weren’t happy about it! But by the mid 1800s, eaters in Boston and New York had begun to pick up on the deliciousness, and technology advanced to a point where lobsters could be fished more easily for mass consumption.
The problem is, lobsters inherently lend themselves to being a luxury. They live alone, on the sea bed, in rocky outcrops, and reproduce very slowly….it can take up to two years to produce fertilized eggs, and then another six to eight years for the lobsters to become large enough to legally fish. Furthermore, lobsters are caught in traps, not with huge nets, and have been known to engage in cannibalism when in captivity. So in terms of price, female lobsters are the way to go…not only are they generally bigger, but the eggs, or coral, can also be used in sauces, and many gourmands believe that they taste better anyway.
In America, Maine is known for their lobster, and lobster is associated more than anything else with Maine. And it’s true, a lot of lobster comes from Maine. But actually, there’s a whole lot more in Canada, Maine just has a better PR company.
But let’s move on to lobster rolls. Lobster rolls come in two forms: hot and cold. The original lobster roll, unsurprisingly, comes from Maine, and is cold. The Maine version usually has a bit of mayo and some seasoning tossed with the lobster meat. Elsewhere in New England, the meat is usually mixed with mayo, celery, and a bit of seasoning…it’s actually a bit similar to a tuna salad, just overwhelmingly better (because it’s lobster). The hot lobster roll is credited to Harry Perry of Milford, CT, and is a simpler affair: hot chunks of lobster meat, drenched in drawn butter. But where the hot and cold join in the Venn diagram of lobster rolls is the bread: a toasted hot dog bun (or similar shape) cut down from the top instead of horizontally. I think the wonderfulness that is the lobster roll is best summed up by Susan Russo in her book The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches: “it’s ironic that lobster, one of the world’s most luxurious foods, is also the featured ingredient in this, one of New England’s least pretentious sandwiches.”
I think anyone who has had a lobster roll in New England can agree. The photos above are from Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London, CT, where I went to college. The afternoons I spent there, eating lobster rolls (always hot of course…I may be a sucker for mayo, but there’s nothing better than hot lobster and drawn butter), are recalled with casual vibes and feelings of relaxation, not of white tablecloths and fine wines. It was about sitting outside at wooden picnic benches with friends and a cold beer, watching the boats come in and out of the harbor, chowing down on delicious food.
Since I’m on the topic of the East Coast, I thought this would be a good time for a post about Five Guys. Though Five Fuys is now a burger franchise all over the world, it started out as a little, family-run burger joint in Arlington, VA. My first experience with these delicious burgers was during my senior year of college. Somehow, I had made it almost all the way through my entire college career before I had even heard of the place. Then, one lucky day, one of my friends decided that we were having burgers for dinner. Words like “handmade patties” and “just like in-n-out” were thrown about, and even though I was extremely skeptical, I went with it.
Now, I am a Southern California girl through and through, and you just don’t compare any fast food burger to In-N-Out. Period. And this was no Double Double. But, Five Guys makes burgers that could fit the description of an East Coast In-N-Out. Plus, they have toppings (pictured is lettuce, tomato, pickles, cheese, and grilled mushrooms). These toppings range from the classic ketchup, onions, lettuce, etc, to the more exotic A1 sauce and green peppers. Furthermore, and this is what totally sold me on Five Guys, they have really good fries. As much as I love In-N-Out, I just really don’t like their fries. And not only are the Five Guys fries amazing, but they also have cajun fries, which are pretty much to die for.
I must say that I was slightly devastated to move back to Los Angeles and realize that my Five Guys days were over. But then…I discovered that the closest Ikea happens to share an address with the closest Five Guys. And since I was moving and obviously needed an Ikea trip, what better time to hit up Five Guys?! The best part was the first bite…until I took another…and another.
So who’s heading out to Carson with me for another Five Guys trip?
The Broken Yolk in New London, Connecticut is everything that a local diner should be. My four years of college in New London gave me ample opportunity to visit The Broken Yolk many a time, and let me tell you, this place gets better with every meal. Run by the amazing and effervescent Doreen, who literally controls the entire diner while cooking every dish and chatting up each customer, The Broken Yolk is one of those places that most people think only exist on television.
Breakfast at The Broken Yolk is always entertaining, but during my recent visit to Connecticut for alumni weekend I had an especially wonderful experience. My friend Wells had decided to shoot his short film at the diner, and my friend Owen, the star of the short, and I accompanied him for breakfast before the work began. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: the company you keep at mealtime can have just as much effect on the experience as the food itself. At The Broken Yolk, the company is always good, and I had been looking forward to a delicious meal there from the moment I booked my flights.
Though I have many favorites on the menu, I wanted to give The Broken Yolk a chance to shine on AOAS, and so I ordered the stuffed croissant…a toasted croissant literally STUFFED with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, scallions, cream cheese, and smoked salmon, served with a side of home fries. First of all, I LOVE breakfast sandwiches. I had, for whatever reason, never really been exposed to breakfast sandwiches before I moved to the East Coast, and so I associate them with college and New England. Thus, a breakfast sandwich was all I wanted, and the stuffed croissant more than fit the bill. Scrambled eggs and cream cheese is another weakness of mine (especially when tabasco is added to the mix), and if you throw in smoked salmon, I am immediately sold. Therefore, I knew exactly what I was ordering the moment Owen told me that we were going to The Broken Yolk for breakfast.
I hadn’t had the stuffed croissant in a couple of years, but it most definitely lived up to my memories. The croissant is perfectly buttery and flaky, made even more so by the slight toasting. The eggs are scrambled exactly the way I like them: not underdone and runny, and not dry and overcooked. All in all, this sandwich is delicious. The only thing that would make it better would be avocado, but this is Connecticut folks, not Southern California (which I would constantly remind myself during my four years of college).
But in all seriousness, if you happen to find yourself in New London, CT, you really have to check this place out. Anything you eat will be delicious (may I recommend the huevos rancheros or the eggs in a window?) and Doreen will always show you a good time. The woman is truly one of a kind.
One of my friends from school is from Redondo Beach, and we decided to get together for a sandwich date before she headed back to Connecticut. She had strongly suggested that we go to Sloopy’s in Manhattan Beach, a cafe known for its beachy patio setting and great food. The decor is great…all eclectic patio furniture that almost feels like you’re sitting in your own backyard. You order from a counter, not waiters, making it feel less restaurant-y and more like you’ve found a great local secret. But on to the sandwich…
The Masterpiece appealed to me because I discovered the classic Italian sandwich when I lived on the East Coast. This type of sandwich is not at all limited to this region, but did, in fact originate there. On a personal note, I had never eaten pig products before college when I lived in California, and I definitely associate this classic with my time on the East Coast. I’ve found so far that a lot of great sandwich shops in Southern California have an Italian-esque sandwich that is more customized, resulting in a lot of great variety. The Masterpiece continued this trend of personalizing this sandwich, while upholding the staples of the classic: prosciutto, ham, salami, cappicola, provolone, arugula, banana peppers, balsamic with cracked pepper mayo on ciabatta. The best part about the Masterpiece for me was not the meat combination, which is the standard, but rather the balsamic and cracked pepper mayo combined with the banana peppers. Though the mayo was interesting in and of itself, the tanginess of the banana peppers complimented it perfectly. For me, composition is a HUGE part of the success of a sandwich, and that includes the order of ingredients: different tastes and textures will be brought out by the way you put your sandwich together. Putting the banana peppers and mayo together really made the sandwich in my opinion, instead of having the mayo on the meat. In addition, I always like the combination of mayo and lettuce, which this sandwich also had. Really, the only problem I had with this sandwich was the ciabatta: though the taste and texture was great, I filled up on the bread quickly and didn’t get very far into the second half of the sandwich.
The Italian sub, which can be found under many names, such as a hoagie, hero, grinder, or torpedo depending on where you are in America, is most definitely a staple of our sandwich culture. Regardless of what it’s called, this sandwich originated in Italian-American communities throughout the Northeast, and is more or less the same sandwich from place to place, albeit small differences. One of the great things about the Italian sub, though, is that it creates a framework that can be tweaked and customized, creating great sandwiches all over the country.