One of my first memories of New York was eating a hot cinnamon raisin bagel from H&H. I’d never had one fresh out of the oven before. In fact, until confronted with the whole proccess face to face, I’d never really thought about how they were made. For most of my life, bagels were the round things in the bread isle of the supermarket, or, worse yet, the freezer section.
So, it is not physically possible for me to walk by H&H without going inside. Like today. On my way in I decided to ask which kind had just come out of the oven, but when I saw how full the cinnamon raisin bin was, I went straight for it.
My freshly baked bagel was just as I remembered – springy on the inside and chewy on the outside, not too sweet, and a true five finger feast @ $1.20. The steam inside it made the raisins so plump and flavorful. After two bites, I came to the realization that raisins are fruit. And half way through, I had to remind myself that what I had in my hand was a bagel. It was like when you go see a movie and the lights come on at the end and you have to take a moment to return to reality because the movie was just that good.
At H&H, you can’t get your bagel toasted with butter, or spread with cream cheese. You can’t get it sliced open and piled high with lox and lettuce. And you can’t even get a cup of coffee to go with it. All you can get here is bagels – but isn’t that the point? I like that they keep it simple. They know what they do well and don’t waste any effort on anything else. And then they kick you out (there’s no seating).
On a related note, I am all about New York’s eat-on-the-go culture. In most other parts of the world, eating and walking is a ludicrous, unhealthy, and even obscene gesture. Here, it is encouraged. The Greek key design coffee cup is a ubiquitous symbol of our city, and it is a to-go cup. Sandwiches, sushi, even steak, all come shrink-wrapped, pre-packaged, or threaded onto a stick for easy, in-transit hand-to-mouth transfer.
I will never forget the time I was in Santo Domingo looking for a late night snack. The only thing my local friends could find for me was a Taco Bell. The 7-layer burrito I ordered was served with a dinner napkin and flatware, which I ignored. Right there at the counter, I picked it up, peeled away some of the paper, and said “vamonos.” They looked at me like I had just shoved the thing up my nose, and said “don’t you want to sit down?” The idea of eating with your hands, let alone standing up, was unknown to them. To me, it just seemed like the efficient and polite thing to do. Why should they have to wait for me? They talked with wonderment about the event for days.
On the other hand, there is something lost in all our hustle and bustle. In Puerto Rico, I never had a bad cup of coffee because every cup was brewed just for me, and served in a real cup, on a little plate with a little spoon next to it. There were times I had to grit my teeth because it took so long, but in the end, there was always a friend to be made, a story to be exchanged, or a song to hum along to.
But on my first day back in NY, as I observed a mailman half-running down the block with a chicken salad sandwich in his mouth and a package in hand, I sighed and thought, “there’s no place like home!”
@ 80th Street