While I try to keep much of my Offbeat Eating, well, “offbeat”, sometimes it’s good to go back to old favorites. And since a trip of our up to the RAF London museum had use out in the northwestern suburbs of London, that meant a side shopping trip for my brother to pick up bagels. You see, growing up in the Kaszeta household, one of the more holy culinary traditions is that Sunday mornings were typically celebrated with toasted bagels. So when my brother moved off to London, he found himself with the occasional craving for a good toasted bagel. Which actually is a bit of a challenge in London. Sure, those that are somewhat aware of the culinary scene in London are already going, “But there is Beigel Bake on Brick Lane!”, but, just like the spelling of “beigel” differs from “bagel”, the product itself varies, mostly due to the different culinary adventures the baked good has had along its various Yiddish voyages to New York, Montreal, or London. Don’t get me wrong, I rather like a good salt beef beigel from Beigel Bake, loaded up with delicious beef and hot English mustard. But the beigel itself is a bit more bready and less chewy than my expectations for a “bagel”…
One of the neater things about traveling is occasionally discovering completely-new-to-me food concepts, the “Things that I did not know where a ‘thing’”. Like learning that the Valencian Orxata is actually a pretty different item than the Mexican Horchata. Learning what a “Debris Po Boy” is in New Orleans. And learning that a Reunionnaise “Carri” is a splendidly different rendition of a “curry”. In this case, a walk through the streets of Bath had us come across Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House, “Home of the Original Bath Bun.”
We actually rather enjoy going to Northampton, MA. Located in the west of Massachusetts in the Pioneer Valley, it’s a rather pleasant college town, with a really nice rail trail (the primary reason for our visit), several nice art galleries, a nice downtown, and even an outpost of Dobra Tea. But after a day of biking around, we were looking for a nice, substantial dinner, and that’s when we found Hungry Ghost.
As I mentioned in my review of Montreal’s Fairmount Bagel a few years ago, bagels are generally a fairly regional food item, with various world metropolitan areas all having their own variations on the same theme. One of the more respected ones, the Montreal Bagel, is also one of the most regional: it’s rather difficult to find a proper “Montreal bagel” outside of Quebec (and heck, they get pretty scarce outside of Montreal itself). So it was with a bit of skepticism that upon hearing that a relatively new addition to Burlington’s bagel scene (which, to date, hadn’t really impressed me that much, even with the relatively low standards I’ve had for “New England” bagels). But a trip this summer by Carol up to Burlington to get an issue with her Mini Cooper fixed let her to try out Myer’s Bagels, and she came back excited: “They really are good, Montreal-style bagels”. So the next time we were both up in Burlington, it was time to check out Myer’s.
For the last stop on our food tour, they took us to Leonard’s Bakery, a modestly-sized bakery located in the Kaimuki neighborhood, not to far from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, with their gleaming sign advertising malasadas and pão doce. The destination wasn’t particularly a surprise, since I’m pretty sure that Leonard’s Bakery was far and away the most-recommended place on Oahu, with literally dozens of people telling me that I had to go to Leonard’s and order a malasada. But I’m sure quite a few of you are now asking “what’s a malasada?” Well, as I mentioned, Hawaii is quite the culinary melting pot, and that influence includes Portuguese cuisine (a large number of Portuguese workers came to Hawaii from the Azores in the late 19th century to work on the sugar cane plantations). This immigration added several major items to Hawaiian cuisine, including Portuguese sausage (available at most breakfast places in Hawaii, and also widely available as a choice in a standard plate lunch), pão doce (Portuguese sweet rolls, kind of like a sweet dinner roll), and the malasada. The malasada is basically a Portuguese donut: a nominally egg-sized lump of dough is fried up and, in its most basic form, served up rolled in granulated sugar. It’s one of the classics of Hawaiian cuisine (indeed, the wedding we attended had fresh malasadas at the reception), and it’s a dessert widely available across the state. And, as I mentioned above, most anyone’s list for “Best Malasada” has Leonard’s near the top of the list.
The next stop on the food tour was Liliha Bakery. Located in Kalihi, which is one of the older and distinctly less touristy parts of town, Liliha is one of those places known for three things in particular: coco puffs (no, not the cereal, we’ll get back to that), great pancakes, and being open 24 hours a day (except for Mondays, when they take a day off). Indeed, when I was getting recommendations for places to check out for “local eats” in Honolulu, several people all gave me the suggestion “Get some coco puffs from Liliha Bakery”. So when our Hawaii Food Tours van pulled up and stopped at Liliha, I had an inkling as to why we were there.
After attending my friend’s wedding, we had several more days on Oahu wandering about and exploring. However, the splendid, sunny weather that had greeted us upon arrival turned primarily into… rain. Now, several tourism guides on the internet will tell you that it doesn’t really “rain” per se in Honolulu, just “drizzle and trickle”… but if that’s the case, we got almost 8” of “drizzle and trickle” our last few days there. So that left us with a lot of non-beach activities to do, and one of those was taking a food tour. In our case, we went with Hawaii Food Tours, who offer several highly-rated tours on Oahu. In our case, we opted for their “Hole-in-the-wall” tour focusing on “local” food for the Honolulu scene. So our first stop with them was in Chinatown Cultural Center at the edge of Chinatown, in a place called Royal Kitchen. While Royal Kitchen does serve up a lot of standard Hawaiian fare like plate lunches and saimin, what they are really known for is manapua, the Hawaiian version of char siu bao, those Chinese soft buns filled with meat. As I mentioned in my previous review of 7-Eleven, those little buns are available almost everywhere on the island, in a variety of flavors. But Royal Kitchen stands out, since most places steam their manapua, while Royal Kitchen bakes theirs.
While the island of Oahu is one of the bigger, and the most populated, of the Hawaiian islands, at times it is a very small place. Indeed, once you get up to the North Shore, there’s not a whole lot of different dining options, and of the existing ones, there are just a few places that consistently get recommended, such as various Kahuku shrimp trucks. One place that gets an awful lot of North Shore recommendations is Ted’s Bakery, and it’s one of the more obvious stops on the Kamehameha Highway, so we decided to stop and give them a try.
There are all sorts of famous rivalries out there in existence, especially in the food world. Geno’s vs Pat’s in Philly (although I’m more of a Tony Luke’s guy myself). American Coney Island vs Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit. Pepe’s vs Sally’s in New Haven. The rivalries go on everywhere. The Boston equivalent that I run into the most often involves cannoli, with the two most-celebrated places being Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry, located within sight of each other. After my last two visits to the North End involving a stop at Mike’s, I figured it was time to check out Modern as well.
One of the more interesting things about the simple bagel is that quite a few major metropolitan areas have ended up creating their own region-specific rendition. While for many people the “New York Bagel” is the ne plus ultra bagel (with many arguments about which particular bakery one should be visiting), I’ve been to two other cities with their particular bagel traditions: London (in which the “beigel” is particularly less crusty, andin most cases, the star of the show is the salt beef it’s served with), and Montreal, which is well-known for their “Montreal Style Bagel”. (Unfortunately, most of the “bagels” that one finds in most of the country are of a fourth type, the “fake bagel”, or “circular bread” as I call it, steamed instead of boiled, and lacking the correct bagel texture. But that’s perhaps a topic for another time.) In most any discussion of Montreal-style bagels, there are two canonical bakeries always mentioned, Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel. And, like asking someone in New Haven whether Sally’s or Pepe’s has better pizza, asking someone in Montreal which they prefer is likely to get you an answer involving particular strong opinions and often a religious-like devotion to one or the other (in fact, until recently, there was even an occasional mention to a third contender, Faubourg Bagel in the increasingly dilapidated Faubourg Ste-Catherine shopping center, but they closed recently). I actually like both, but our recent visit to Lawrence was right down the street from Fairmount Bagel, and a good chance to pop in an give this place a proper review.