Turn Left to Eat

It’s all in a name.

Meeting a person with a unique name is always an interesting experience, which can make the engagement seem more enticing, somewhat more attractive, and usually unforgettable, hoping things fall into place. The same applies to the an intriguing name for branded jeans, an exotic pair of shoes, a suggestively titled chocolate, an over-the-top box of nutty confections, or anything which comes across with a name so unique that it remains etched in your mind long enough to to attain an irreplaceable title. The name need not necessarily resonate with what it represents: Whilst Diesel jeans do not reek, there is something so addictive about the love letter packaging of XOXO Chocolate. And everyone either adores or cringes at the tongue-in-cheek humor of French Connection’s FCUK line. If eating Haagen Daaz boosts your sex life despite expanding your waistline, as the associations try to convey, then good for you. All in all, the name simply needs to be catchy, buzzy, and, on a fundamental level, it needs to click.

Having always had this notion, I was wondering why I ever even thought of entering a place called Bagels and Beans.

What a despicable name; so akin to a fast food joint, which is usually not my scene. I despise bagels. The sourness, the rubbery texture, the visual association of a person chowing down on several, dropping crumbs like unwanted snowflakes on their clothing and littering up the table, completely ignoring the parachute opening up slowly but surely above their belt buckle. Yes bagels do contribute to this, as the idol-istic David Zinzenko rightfully points out, being more calorie laden and less tasty than English muffins (honestly, whats the point). Despite my feeling that bagels were of American origin, they actually originate from Krakow in Poland, a splendid city to visit, and one whose culture and food is in stark contrast with the Americanized bagel that everyone is used to. Exotic inspirational history aside, most of the world believes it comes from the “west”, and whatever the case, I firmly stand rooted by my opinion: I detest bagels.

And beans? If we’re talking beans beans, then I eat them for their protein content, praying that I am not plagued by flatulence thereafter. But from the bitter scent of the air, I realized that the name was hinting towards coffee beans. Coffee is another one of those addictive staples that I simply cannot ingest. Probably since I have seen too much muck colored liquid oozing out of paper cups, or leaving gruesome rings and rims on immaculate glass surfaces, or etching marks on the insides of otherwise delightful mugs, akin to cholesterol slowly painting itself on the inside of our arteries.

And I do not enjoy the taste of coffee. The hot feel of the mug, yes, delightful. The warmth of it down my throat, yes, exotic. But oh how my tongue twists in wrath and ties itself into knots when the bitterness touches it, immediately beckoning my eyes to release waterfalls of tears of annoyance, which coerce my finger muscles to drop that mug instantly, and dive for something that my mouth can better flirt with!

Okay, drama aside, I simply am not a coffee fan.

So, here I was entering a place titled Bagels and Beans. Admittedly, I liked that it wasn’t called Bagels and Coffee. But never have I succumbed to entering a place simply due to relative positives.

To my surprise, the ambiance of what I realized was a Dutch chain inspired by things further west across the Atlantic, was instantly gratifying. Quaint, yet seemingly so large due to all glass walls facing a busy, almost run down, commotion ingested city, right by a tram stop. Slightly to the left of it, a directional coincidence that would exhibit its significance at a later point in time. The glass walled barrier was instantly calming, ensuring that we were indoors, away from the ruckus. Aside from the coffee odor, I immediately smelled a delightful citrus scent, and naturally so since I was surrounded by a few pillars of baskets uniquely assembling several tangerines and lemons. Real too, as I picked one up for verification. On being seated by a window, a delightful pun since there were actually no window-less seats, I noticed a unique tree, or a rather large plant in the corner, right by me. It was an ordinary, grassy looking excuse for a showcase of nature, only amusingly adorned with bagels! They were of various textures and shades, all real too, albeit no longer edible.

Whilst I jumped in joy at the strangeness of it, I recalled my disdain for coffee and bagels.

I was however amazed by the menu, also accurately available online. A variety of freshly baked bagels, with accurate descriptions ranging from fillings of pumpkin seeds to spinach to cinnamon to blueberry, all baked within the bagel. And with arrows pointing towards the various combinations of creams and spreads that I could be eaten them with. Garlic baked, sundried tomato, blueberry infused, cinnamon with raisin and nuts, blue cheese with sunflower seeds, and even with health conscious options! My friends who believe that the world does not exist outside of cosmopolitans like New York and London may bite me for ignoring similar aspects in their prided cities, but seeing a well done American tradition in a very non-American country is an undeniable delight. Plus, anything made with bread and dough in the Netherlands is bound to be several notches above any other place. And indeed, my first bite of the bagel was neither crumbly, nor sour, nor rubbery, but simply chewy and flavorful. Definitely no replacement for a chocolate obsession or my lust for cereal as a staple breakfast item, but so so so much better than what I had been used to, ironically in the bagel’s westward homeland.

The cream cheeses came garnished with walnuts; always huge whole walnuts, sometimes glazed with honey or other times soaked in spice or drizzled with an admirable amount of cinnamon powder, depending on what type of cheese it was. My favorites were the combination of a bagel (from over eight choices) with a large, burger sized loaf of goat cheese, which oozed calorie laden goodness with every slice of the knife and every bite, coated with a layer of contrasting honey, speckled with thyme, and spilling with whole crunchy walnuts. I particularly enjoyed the protein boost of a miniature omelet on my bagel, often garnished with heaps of cubed vegetables or a fresh green lettuce peeking out from the bagel burger effect. The sides often included fresh and gleaming pieces of fruit or vegetables, which were always in contrast to the plate the bagel came on. Bright orange clementines on green plates which coincidentally matched the lettuce, or freshly cut cucumber on yellow plates which ironically matched the omelet.

The drinks were another spectacle, and my favorite feast of all. On a cold, rainy day, so typical for Hollandia, I ordered a licorice tea. It arrived as a glass of piping hot water, with a whole licorice root of about six inches shoved into it! And what flavor and scents it exuded! I spent a large portion of the time simply clutching my glass, with secret sensual sniffs, hoping that my date would not frown at my behavior.

How I cringed at the thought of ordering coffee. I really did not want to, but was told it is unfathomable to not order it for a brunch, especially when the unconcealable dark circles under my eyes spelled a different story of an Amsterdamaged night. I succumbed to pressure and ordered a cappuccino, my savior in times of distress, as it contains little caffeine, much milk (thanks cows!) and lots of sugar (the poison I must eat to swallow the wrath of coffee). Such was the effect that I almost always ordered it when I went thereafter, simply to see the variety of cups and saucers that Bagels and Beans could serve me in. A jigsaw saucer was just what my sore eyes had called for. Thankfully, the coffee portions were not hugely intolerable and thus very un-American, but perfectly Alice in Wonderland’s hand sized, enough to give a kick without casting a curse on the abdominal zone.

My morbid coffee-despising mind flew out the window when I noticed that the froth contained my ultimate obsession. Chocolate.

Yes, chocolate swirls, chocolate shavings and chocolate chips, both dark and white, encapsulated in the froth and glaring at me in glee. I scooped them up with a spoon and devoured the half melted morsels immediately! And later I realized that mixing them within the coffee actually helped me swallow it without a grimace showing on my face.

The other way to make coffee inhalable is to order extra milk, which I did on occasion, and boy was I in luck. It arrived in miniature capsulated glass bottles, vials if you like with pop up caps, akin to a pirate’s stashed shot of vodka. I felt the urge to scoop one and pose like a Johnny Depp, whipping it out of my raincoat with a loud AHA! Since after all, posing dramatically is the best way to capture, share and recall any experience!

Although I love all things chocolate, I have to confess that hot chocolate has the innate ability to put me to sleep. It tastes divine, but something about it unplugs the mental faucet and drains all the energy out of me, which while relaxing, does not make for strong post-dining experiences. However, Bagels and Beans seemed to have found a solution to this problem by making the hot chocolate drinking process more interactive. The concept made me plunge into a naughty day of childhood, for it was simply a tall cup of piping hot milk, with an enchanting device right next to it: a stick, with a cube of solid chocolate at the end. The idea was to swirl the chocolate into your milk, and since it was finely refined with a lower melting point, it would slowly infiltrate the milk to deliver an aw-evoking and oooh-inspiring experience. The tendency to consistently lick the melting chocolate was irresistible. I immediately bought some of these sticks for domestic indulgences, only to realize how ignorant I had been of the secret pleasure, since it was getting somewhat common amongst luxury chocolatiers, and could be made at home too!

The juices were alarmingly original. While the classic freshly squeezed ones promised optimal flavors, it was the mixes that gave a visual twist by leaving remnants of unmixed portions in the juice itself. A pineapple cranberry juice was half yellow and half red when it arrived, slowly blending together over a series of exciting conversations. And for down days, the juices could be accompanied by miniature strong flavor punch shots, which were titled according to mood. Stress shots were apparently the most popular, with strong berry and currants in the vials. The simple art of unscrewing these potion like vials and blending them into your juice, akin to Shrek and Fiona’s coy fairy godmother’s suggestive recipes, was enough to de-stress.

The best thing I liked about Bagels and Beans, which made me forget my hesitations towards coming and my indifference towards the namesake foods, was its lack of uniform utensils and crockery. For being a chain, this was quite an accomplishment, as it instantly relayed a homely feel with a dash of unpredictability, and an unmatched image of freshness, so essential for a good meal. And how whimsical and Alice-in-Wonderland-like they were! (I realize this makes me seem like a Tim Burton fan, but I honestly am not. Yet, Alice’s world is so inspiring, and instantly aligns itself so well with Bagels and Beans! Ugh, yet another downer for mentioning the name which is perhaps the only thing that does not fit.) Dark plates with white hands holding the cups, tiny red devils crawling all over the saucers, streetside phrases like ‘rich and poor’ crafted alongside brightly colored buttons, green plates to match the cucumber garnish on the bagels, or pink plates to challenge the biggest fashion fiasco of all time by pairing these with pieces of orange tangerine. I have already spoken of how we eat with our eyes, then with our mouths. Here was an understated, effortless technique that worked so well in creating an inimitable experience. And an experience that the symmetrical pale plates and geometrically accurate table settings simply could never capture, let alone recreate.

It was a great place for conversations, since the maze of windows allowed one to feel the activity from the outside but recollect idle chatter with a soul mate inside. A huge bowl filled gem like sugar cubes, chocolate beans, and gummy candy sat on the table, the perfect item for your fingers to flirt with, and great for relentlessly long chats that evoke an ambiance similar to the much talked about melt together campaign of Haagen Daz. The bowl itself, however, was usually half empty by the time I left, foretelling a dentist’s nightmare six months down the line.

The brownie that I ordered with much excitement came with two slices of bright orange, juxtaposed against a black plate with a white hand and sprinkled with black and white chocolate shavings. Splendid eye candy, but marginally dry in its cake like texture. Admittedly, the taste of the food at Bagels and Beans, whilst fresh and creative, could sometimes be pretty average depending on what was ordered. But clearly, my excitement, so obviously dripping and pouring through this entire article, evidently suggests that the ambiance and whimsical creativity of Bagels and Beans’ serving style more than made up for it. The stories and the displays and the friendly atmosphere of it all were refreshing and instantly attractive and addictive, beckoning several comebacks, especially to taste seasonal changes!

Recalling my annoyance with the name, I figured that its simplicity and easy recollection was what made it fit with what it had to offer: total freshness. In the United States, such a name would probably languish with distasteful competition, but in the Netherlands, it struck and stuck like a diamond in the rough, or a candle in a cave, particularly with a spunky and cheery service and ambiance, reflected to some degree on the interactive website too. So, I learned to accept things despite their unoriginal names, but still hold uniqueness at a higher pedestal.

Lesson learned: ordinary named things can sometimes relay very unordinary experiences.

It’s a pity that the chain, as a polite waitress told me, was seeking to expand its menu by seeking inspirations from further west. Diversification was falling into the laps of these owners too, seeking to expand their selection, and I hope that it does not cause any standardization to enter the picture. For it is Bagels and Beans’ unpredictability, unsymmetrical cheerfulness and deliberate mismatch, particularly with regards to serving style, that has won my vote. I feel that Bagels and Beans should retain their lack of order and unmatched pieces of the puzzle to really carve a niche, instead of seeking avenues from westward lands.

To Europe, the United States is the west, where bagels and related items have fallen into the fast foods and unhealthy junk category. Europe is the west for Asia, yet I feel that several unique trends, both in food and fashion, arise in Asia itself. If you think of the globe, Asia is technically west to the United States. The concept of westernization is as old as the days of Galileo, since we have discovered eons ago that the earth is globular; I mean, spherical. So this will lead to an everlasting search for what is more west! Hence, another cycle.

Turn left to eat, left from the tram stop, and left in general, would perhaps be a more appropriate way to seek inspiration and recreate irreplicable service.

So I will revert to naming it the cycle of left-ward seeking traits.

After all, its all in a name.

23 responses to “Turn Left to Eat

  1. I’m actually not a huge fan of Momofuku, I wrote that post earlier on in my blog’s existence and I didn’t want to be too negative. But yeah, not impressed either. Funnily enough though, the compost cookie was the one thing I did love, but they didn’t have it last time I went.

    I would be honored to be added to your links list!

  2. Sssourabh, I’m pained to see that you’ve dissed two things I hold so close to heart – bagels and coffee! That said, I will totally agree that the typical American deli bagels and bitter black coffee are pretty nauseating…I literally wretch when I think of Wawa coffee now (symptom of naive FOB student not knowing any better).

    That said, I totally love Ess-a-bagels on 21st/1st ave in NY – especially scooped out (so you don’t have mouthfuls of carby dough to chew through) and filled with either one of their savory (vegetable/chive) or sweet (apple walnut…) cream cheeses. And their coffee is pretty special too…though not good enough to make you a convert for sure. 😉

    Also, if you ever go to WD-50 in NYC, you must check out their take bagels and cream cheese – molecular gastronomy recreation, hints at the elements of bagels/cream cheese without actually putting one on your plate. Super funky.

    Anyhoo, pretty funny to think you walked into such a chain-y sounding joint…! Keep up the exploring, and the awesome photography, LOVE the coffee with chocolate twirls pic!

    • Was expecting to hear the qualms from you eventually, Miss Coffee-Endorser! Though I didn’t know you had plunged into bagels too, really? I also hate donuts, you better not like them. I know, totally not my thing, but this place is amazing! I’ve tried Ess-a and was not a fan, but intrigued by the other reco! The chocolate swirls were what attracted me to the otherwise 10% coffee drink, haha!

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