This week’s Postcard from Paris comes from Yael, who touches on many a subject that crosses the mind of study-abroad students: culture shock, homesickness, a very strong desire for bagels…
In general, my lunch these days consists of a boulangerie sandwich, and there are only three or so options to choose from (I do have quite a thing for those curry chicken sandwiches that are somehow so weirdly Parisian, but that’s another post). Trust me, you can put pretty much anything on a good crusty demi-baguette and I’m a happy girl… but sometimes I just need something different.
In the weeks leading up to our departure, we were warned about the imminent prospect of culture shock. We were told that we would be unable to understand the customs of the French at first, and that we should go eat American food or watch a movie in English if we were feeling too country-sick. Well, I have yet to experience this sudden desire to go back to the world of hamburgers and greasy, inauthentic Chinese food… but I’ll fake some culture shock any day if it means I have an excuse to eat at Bagels & Brownies.
Yes, you read that right. There are two categories of students in the Columbia-Penn Program in Paris at Reid Hall—the first group, when I say I got lunch at Bagels & Brownies, responds with “Huh? What’s that?” and the second group responds with something along the lines of “OMG THAT PLACE IS SO GOOD.”
Located nearby Reid Hall on Rue Notre Dame des Champs, the dark green façade labeled Bagels & Brownies and their window full of American treats like pecan pie and chocolate chip cookies conceal a display case behind which employees efficiently toast and make sandwiches with bagels of different types plucked from the baskets above their heads. Bagel type is up to you—nature (plain), cereal (multigrain), sesame, poppy, onion, or cheese. As your bagel is toasting, you can think about which sandwich you want it made into—each named after a city in the United States.
As every New Yorker knows, a fresh bagel really shouldn’t be toasted—the toaster is for saving the leftover half-bagel from yesterday. At Bagels & Brownies, however, I don’t know that I’d want to change their method—they pile so much on the sandwiches that the toasting helps the bagel hold up. Of course, as a New Yorker I must point out that Bagels & Brownies doesn’t sell bagels, precisely. They’re softer and missing the tougher outer crust. That said, they come pretty close to the mark in the world of Parisian bagels, which are usually just bread shaped into a circle.
Whatever they are, they’re tasty. The toppings are hardly traditional (pastrami, though it is just as quintessentially New York as a bagel, probably had never met one until they both went to Paris) but they are, in true French form, fresh and delicious. If it’s not during the crazy lunch rush, the person preparing your bagel will slice your avocado to order. The cream cheese somehow tastes both milder and more like real cheese than the American supermarket variety—it may very well be homemade. You may not expect a cheese-topped bagel with tomato, avocado, cheddar and swiss cheeses, chive cream cheese, and grainy French mustard (that one is called the “Phoenix”) to work, but… well, it just does. And there’s something undeniably fascinating about seeing (and tasting) your own culture through the admiring eyes of the French.
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