Bagels in Bruges
There is a right way and a wrong way to eat a bagel.
To begin with, a bagel (regardless of its provenance) shall be cut no less than once and no more than twice. It is the first cut, slicing the bagel horizontally into equal halves, that is the most important. These halves form the foundation for whatever the bagel is to become.
The second cut is most often a matter of taste, though it’s occasionally a matter of necessity. This neat bisecting of the round halves makes the bagel more manageable.
It was this second-cut kind of bagel that was placed in front of me on a dainty china plate in Bruges.
Bruges had never really been on my radar, but as I finished up a Friday evening meeting, I found myself unenthused about the idea of a weekend in Brussels. Hailing a cab, I was soon on the first train heading north.
Walking away from the station, I soon encountered cobblestone streets and little brick houses ripped from a fairy tale. The meandering canals and warmly lit cafés that define the city are the perfect backdrop for a romantic getaway. I suddenly realized that I had chosen to explore a city famous for charming lanes and romantic corners alone. I also realized that in a country famous for waffles, I wanted a bagel.
The next morning, determined to beat the crowds of couples that would soon jam the medieval alleys, I set out before the sun had a chance to fully rise and went in search of sustenance. A perfect line of Belgian bicycles parked outside of Sanseveria Bagelsalon beckoned me inside. Skimming the menu quickly, while trying to seem as inconspicuous as possible at a small corner table, I settled on the Harvey. Speck, egg, cream cheese, arugula, and a lashing of black pepper. The most European bagel I could imagine.
Sitting down to eat alone in public sharpens flavors. There is no companion to distract you from the act of consumption. At a table for one, the only place to focus is on the bagel. On the crisped speck, salty and substantial, unmistakably meat rather than crackling. On the slow dribbling of the fried egg, as the sunny yoke combines with the pork to send umami alarm bells across your taste buds. With each bite, you have the clarity to notice how the arugula cuts through it all, adding to the pleasure. The cream cheese is a non-negotiable touch of comfort in a bagel.
The right way to eat a bagel is alone, I realized. If you happen to be in Bruges, so much the better.