The smooth crust gives in with a slight crunch. Immediately, the tender, full dough floods my mouth, my senses…. For you Montreal newbies out there, know that the fuel of this ecstasy is the one and only, the soft, warm-hearted St. Viateur Bagel. B. Capital B. Not to be confused with other, ordinary bagels.
Prior to coming to Montreal, my encounters with these chubby rings had been quite minimal, to say the least. My only previous knowledge was of those sugar-loaded impostors, bagels’ overly bedecked cousins: doughnuts. Montreal changed that – it triggered a revolution and an epiphany in my perception not only of bagels, but of bread in general. It was a sort of bread-bug that delineated my life into two eras: the before-Bagel (BB) and the after-Bagel (AB).
It is in this after-bagel era that I began to promote the presence of the Bagel on the breakfast table from occasional visitor to an eternal, ubiquitous existence – one that I cannot do without: whole wheat or white bread, whether it’s poppy seed sprinkled, or sports sesame seeds, assorted or charmingly plain, it is a sociable kind of bread, easily forging friendships with peanut butter, cream cheese, jam, or Nutella!
Needless to say, the Bagel is a prized component of the town’s culture – French customs have left their fingerprint on the city. Bread is abundant, rich in variety, and inimitable in superior taste. Montrealers pride themselves with making the best bagels in Canada, and even have the audacity to name them the best in the world. I have not tasted non-Canadian bagels yet, but right now, my relationship with the slightly sweet, mignonne St. Viateur kind is so pristine and sincere, and (I’d like to believe) mutual, that I’ll be feverishly treading Parc for a long while still. For those who’ve never been, I’ll only say: head north up Parc (away from Old Montreal), and when you smell the delicious scent of freshly-baked bread, turn right, and let your senses guide you. Prepare to exit the bakery with (at least) two bags chock-full of tastebud delight. Be warned though, that they are not for the faint-willed: the aroma is so devilishly inviting and the warm freshness so alluring, that the load is bound to lighten up by the time you reach home to store them in the fridge.
The St. Viateur Bagel and I are bound by a special sort of camaraderie. Over the course of one year, I have seen it behave in countless situations, and it never let me down. Lying snugly on my morning plate after a short tan in the toaster, patiently braving the sub-zero cruelty of the freezer just so that I would find it fresh after a week, bouncing along in tandem with my pace when I carried it to university (so that it may save me from the growling pains of hunger during a particularly heavy-on-the-intellect class). This risen yeast and flour mixture was my life-buoy.
At this point, reader, you might ask, “Can it really be that spectacular in taste or is there another reason for this bagel-induced mania?” Well, I can’t say. No, it isn’t like I was deprived of any source of bread or carbs in my infancy and therefore formed a Freudian attachment to the Bagel in my (near) adulthood, nor do I believe it to be an ancestral, primitive adoration of “our daily bread.” I could delve into the social, cultural, and psychological roots of my quasi-obsession, but I know you wouldn’t like it, nor would I have the space. And, I’d rather eat a crispy bagel – it’s been toasting for a while and if it doesn’t catch fire, my olfactory neurons will, firing like mad as they are! So instead of the next protein or fitness bar, have a St Viateur Bagel. If nothing else, it’s definitely fresher.