Whenever someone asks me the question, “What made you want to transfer to Columbia?” I answer, “The bagels.”
Partly, it is the truth. The West Coast has plenty of bagels, but to quote my therapist at UCLA, “They just can’t do the bagels right here in Cali.” With all due respect to the widely beloved state with amazing asada burritos and excessive sunshine, I wholeheartedly agree with him. Noah’s Bagels in Westwood was decent. The microwaved, self-described “New York” bagels scattered around Los Angeles’ local bakeries were actually heart-warming sometimes, and the sweet, 2 a.m. cinnamon raisin ones offered at Hedrick’s, a UCLA café located five minutes from my dorm, probably accounted for 10 of my solid freshman fifteen. But, all those bagels are nothing compared to the ones within arm’s reach in the Upper West Side.
Some say it’s the water, some say it’s the boiling, and some—myself included—honestly do not care. Why care when the most perfect combo of carbs, salt, and fat is right within sight? All you need to do is to explore all of the available options nearby, which I did aggressively.
In the last two weeks, I have inhaled an average of two and a half bagels per day. And let me just say it out loud, all of them were fabulous. Off-campus, Wu & Nussbaum is without a doubt the most convenient location (a five-minute walk from Hamilton Hall), yet the slightly farther Absolute Bagels is the closest to my heart. It seems that there is always a long line in the store (or rather, out the door), but it is absolutely worth the wait.
Just a 10-minute walk across Morningside Park, BO’s Bagels is of particular charm to me because of its Black Russian bagel. In my honest opinion as a soon-to-be Russian lit major, this very bagel reminds me of Dostoevsky—its color is as dark as the House of the Dead, its flavor as deep as the conversations between the Karamazov bros, and its taste as good as Christ’s forever forgiving soul.
And let’s not forget about the hidden gems sitting in the nearby grocery stores. You can get a solid bagel at Westside Market for about $0.60. Plus, Westside is open 24/7, which means late-night bagels are available to hungry students at 3 a.m. every day. Well-prepared bagels can also be found at either Freshy’s Deli or Apple Tree Market. Morton Williams sells alright bagels, but I personally would rather go for a one-dollar bagel at the food truck outside of Wien if I’m in a rush.
On campus, the Columbia dining halls and cafés do not disappoint either. Almost every café here serves bagels, and each of them meets the NYC standard. Most of all, I appreciate how consistent John Jay’s salmon quality is and the generous smears of lox spread on everyone’s bagels. If you prefer unorthodox bagels (e.g., toasted blueberry bagels with peanut butter and granola), try Ferris. With a little creativity and the aid of the large variety of ingredients provided, I believe you can DIY the quirkiest, most uniquely-flavored bagel ever.
Admittedly, I am not the harshest critic when it comes to judging bagels. Born and raised in a city more than 7,000 miles away from New York, I didn’t have a clue what a bagel was until my first visit to Pittsburgh two years ago. However, my passion for gulping down the most harmonic form of carbohydrates, I’d say, is no less than that of any true Brooklynite. In fact, after religiously reading practically every Yelp review of NYC bagel shops, I made a plan to rate every bagel I was about to have in the Columbia neighborhood by paying close attention to each one’s chewiness, doughiness, saltiness, and more.
This method failed, naturally. Turns out, all of the bagels I tried near or in Columbia have crusts that are crispy to the exact right extent, interiors that are satisfyingly soft, and a unique flavors with which I cannot find any faults. All of them hit all the right notes: chewy, doughy, fresh, and warm. None of them are bland, nor overpriced. I’d be a liar if I alleged the cream cheese is not good enough. Even the smell leaves nothing to criticize. The bagels are blameless.
Oh, dear Columbia bagels, the light of my life, the fire of my loins. I love you for your graceful existence, and I thank you in advance for saving my soul from getting crushed by Lit Hum in the near future. And dear prospective students, here I suggest for you to come here—for the city, for the academics, and maybe also for the excellent Columbia bagels.
The author is a sophomore at Columbia College with a prospective major in Russian literature. She transferred from UCLA this year and is now nervously waiting for the New York winter. She is a huge fan of bagels, and her favorite order is a toasted cinnamon raisin with scallion cream cheese, preferably with an extra egg. If you are ever interested in either talking about, recommending, or having bagels with her, please email email@example.com.