I grew up in a Jewish family in a fairly large Jewish community in the United States, which means that bagels were a part of my life. Our neighborhood bagel maker was from Israel, and made the best bagels imaginable. His were dense but soft, not too dry, solid with a slightly crisp crust…just entering into his store was an experience for the senses.
Choosing a flavor was hard, since all were fantastic. Those fresh baked bagels, the comforting warmth of the ovens on a cold winter’s morning, the smell of fresh brewed coffee (Colombian, of course) heightening the experience… those are childhood memories that stick with me.
Then I moved to South America, where it’s been quite hard to find a good bagel. For years I made my own, laboriously kneading the dough, forming the rings, boiling them, baking them… evidence of a huge desire to eat bagels. Now that I’m in Bogotá, it turns out that here I can let others do the hard work, and just enjoy the results.
So, the question is: where to go to get a good bagel in Bogotá?
I hadn’t seen a bagel in South America until I walked into the restaurant Bagel Time, my first South American bagel experience. I actually felt nervous when I entered. Would I find a true bagel? Would I be disappointed by a soft, flavorless piece of white bread shaped into the form of a ring?
The restaurant-café is simple but inviting. An outside terrace tempts you to spend some quality time with your bagel and coffee. And then, there, behind the counter, I saw them. The bagels. There they were, all lined up, adorned with sesame seeds or poppy seeds, with bits of raisins showing through some of them. I could tell at first glance: a real bagel.
But how did a real bagel get here? Conversing with the owner, Janet Finkelstein, I got to the bottom of the mystery. A soft-spoken woman from a German-Jewish family, she began making bagels in Bogota 9 years ago. Using family recipes under strict kosher procedures, Bagel Time offers homemade style bagels in three sizes (cocktail, mini, traditional), and a variety of flavors such as poppy seed, whole wheat, cinnamon raisin, and onion. They even have a quinoa bagel. The selection of cream cheese includes plain, salmon, chives. Bagel sandwiches such as salmon, tuna or vegetarian are a tempting offer, as well as bagel chips.
To continue my Bogotá Bagel Experience I visited Capital Bagels. This posh little restaurant has a natural, eco-friendly feel to it, with an indoor petunia garden, an outdoor as well as semi outdoor terrace, and an indoor area. Here the chewy, home-style bagels are baked fresh every morning, in a variety of flavors such as sesame, poppy seed, chives or onion. Also, diners can choose from roast beef bagel sandwiches, a Bogotá fusion with pork loin, smoked bacon on a sesame bagel or others.
When I asked a German friend where to get good bagels in the city, I got the immediate response: Bagelmen’s! However, I was later disappointed to find that the restaurant, open for over two years, had recently closed. The production plant is still operating, so we can still get a baker’s dozen in flavors such as everything, jalapeño, sesame, poppy, onion, garlic, cinnamon raisin. For events, they offer bagel sandwiches with turkey, roast beef, Gouda cheese, or corned beef.
Of course, the proof is in the pudding, so how did I feel when I got home with my fresh baked bagels, toasted them and spread butter on them?
I closed my eyes and felt like I was home.
Of course, we’re not in New York, the city of bagels, and I kept that in mind as I tasted the bagels. And I’ll be honest. These are not perfect bagels. The texture lacks a bit; they’re a little too bready, not bagely enough. And of course here I don’t find the variety I grew up with. But when you want a taste of home far away from home, remember it’s available here in Bogotá, too.
Calle 98 No. 10-31
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