Reunion, with Bagels
One of my duties while working as a producer/program director in NYC was to periodically direct the morning news show that was broadcast at 7 am. This required me to wake up at 2 am and work non-stop until 8 am. The only thing I wanted after finishing such a fast-paced project was a good breakfast. Fortunately, the studio was near what is probably the best bagel shop in all of NYC, Ess-a-Bagel. They feature a variety of piping hot bagels with a delicious assortment of homemade spreads and toppings. The bagels are huge and their fillings are more than generously applied. Knowing that after all of my hard work, I would be able to bite into these perfectly crisp yet soft delights was motivation enough to get through the high stress days. Did I mention that the bagels taste incredibly good? Putting them in the same category as bread would be an insult to the bagel makers.
Ess-a-Bagel wasn’t only memorably for its food, but also for its colorful staff. Uncle Bill, as he referred to himself, was the outspoken representative for the store. Ask for something that goes against the unwritten rules of bageldom and you will be reprimanded. You want your bagel toasted? Or maybe you want an egg bagel? If that’s the case, then it is best not to go. The only thing you’ll get out of making such requests is the discovery of your bagel ignorance and a crash course in bagel fundamentals.
The other staff members had emigrated from around the world: Arabs, Mexicans, Jews, Irish, etc. The store was a cross section of life in the city, with a color and flavor that could only be found in NYC. But perhaps the greatest memory that I have of that place (other than the bagels, of course) is Miho.
Miho was a young Japanese girl that had left it all behind to come to NYC. After saving money from her stable desk job, Miho, going against the protests of her parents, took up and left for New York. Many go to New York to seek a new and better life. Some go to study English; others to work or study abroad. But Miho was unique. She went to study bagels.
Miho had a vision. Ever since she had her first bagel she knew she wanted to learn how to make them herself. She wanted to run her own store. And with that will and prepared determination, she begged the managers of Ess-a-Bagel to work there. She wanted to be an apprentice and she got her wish. Though there was no salary, Miho was happy to be paid in bagels. It was at this time, when Miho was working to form her dream into a reality that our paths crossed.
Every morning after finishing the morning show I would head over to have breakfast with Miho. Stressed and tired, Miho would always brighten my day. She sat and listened to me gripe, and always with a smile. The bagels always tasted so much better this way. Unfortunately, Miho eventually went back to Japan but I always hoped that she’d make her dream come true.
It had been 5 years since I last spoke with Miho. I quit my job in NYC and moved back to Osaka for grad school. I often wondered what Miho was doing. Then last summer, I went back to my favorite bagel place. Though many of the staff had long gone, Uncle Bill was there to great me with his scathing New York humor. He told me that Miho had done it. She had opened her shop somewhere in Tokyo! I looked to a store wall and saw Miho’s face smiling back. There hanging on the wall was an article in The Wall Street Journal featuring her as a young entrepenuer. I was excited. Not only could I find Miho, but I could finally find what was sure to be a real bagel in Japan.
Upon my return, I moved to Tokyo. Settling in to my new surroundings made a search for Miho fall to the bottom of my to-do list. It took 6 months but I finally found her.
Miho’s store is called Maruichi Bagel, a play on the word “circle” and “one” implying they are the best. There is no need to imply. These bagels are the best you will find in all of Japan. Miho has followed the Ess-a-Bagel formula perfectly. Though some ingredients might mildly change the flavor, these bagels will have you lining up for more. And yes, you will have to line up. The shop is tiny, with barely enough space for customers to fit inside and at Maruichi; it’s take-out only. But these bagels are New York sized. Ask for cream cheese and you’ll get an entire bowl of the homemade stuff. The mixed tuna is more than two cans large. You won’t go hungry here and the prices won’t have you breaking the bank. If you want a true bagel with a size and flavor that anyone in the Big Apple would be proud of, then you need to go to Maruichi Bagel.