I eat at least half a toasted bagel every single day. It is my lifeblood. It is my heritage. It is usually my breakfast.
There are many Jewish dairy restaurants in my hometown of Toronto that specialize in baked goods like bagels, challah, babka and the rest of it. Back at the turn of the 20th century, when boatloads of observant Jews were arriving from eastern Europe to escape persecution, “dairy” meant kosher (because no meat was in the mix, the fear of non-kosher meat, or the mixing of milk with meat, was eliminated), and kosher meant home. One restaurant that serves only dairy, United Bakers, was founded in 1912 and is still thriving, while Harbord Bakery has been baking the world’s best challah and cheese Danishes since 1945. The city also has countless dedicated bagel spots, from Gryfe’s to Bagel World to Bagel House to the new pisher, NU Bügel in Kensington Market, where Toronto’s Jewry first laid roots.
In the mid-1990s, I was attending school in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for a journalism degree along with a tight class of about 36 students. Dave, a nice guy from a Toronto suburb, was one of them. I didn’t eat pepperoni pizza and that’s what the gang always ordered, so Dave, who I believe was secretly in love with me, always had a bagel and mini packet of spreadable cream cheese on hand for me in his dorm room. One evening, a bunch of us were gathered at Dave’s for an impromptu post-exams pizza party, Dave dutifully preparing my bagel and schmear. All dark hair and deep brown eyes, he suddenly looked different to me.