Language challenges in the bagel line

Each city seems to have its own quintessential dining experiences. In New York City one of them is the bagel with lox and a shmear of cream cheese. And this morning I had the pleasure of watching a couple visitors trying to acquire such. And they didn’t speak much English. I’ve been in that position many times in many places around the world. Typically I just point at things in the case or on a menu and hope something yummy comes out. That’s not quite as easy to do in the bagel shop and this couple was struggling.


She ordered a “Bagel with salmon and cheese” which, for someone who doesn’t really speak the language is pretty darn close. And the guy behind the counter probably should have known she meant cream cheese. But he wasn’t sure and so asked for clarification, “Cheese or cream cheese?” Alas, our protagonist had no idea what was being asked of her or what to do. I stepped in and answered for her, hoping to help things along. It seemed to work pretty well.

Things got more complicated with the next order: “Bagel with egg.” “Scrambled, fried or egg salad,” came the reply. This was not nearly as easy a situation to figure out. This was also when we determined that they spoke Spanish much better than English. A combination of pointing to egg salad and saying “huevos fritos” managed to get far enough along to a decision. Fortunately they didn’t try to order anything more complicated as my Spanish skills were already being stretched at that point, though I certainly could have helped if they wanted beer.

And so, as I walked home from the shop, I smiled a bit and reminisced about the many similar experiences I’ve had over the years, usually successful but always with a few entertaining misses as well. Like the pizza in Venice with mussels on top, still in the shell. Or one of the many meals in Ukraine or China where I never did figure out what was inside. All part of the joys of travel.

Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.

Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Fun story. The little pleasures of travel. As an aside, I’m in the city for the weekend myself, any recommendations for a good bagel place?

  2. My vote for far and away best bagel in NYC is Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Co., which (oddly) has no locations in Brooklyn. They’re in Manhattan at 24th & 8th and a couple of locations in Queens.

    1. I say you’re making a mistake. :p

      Head 2 blocks south to the Murray’s (22nd & 8th) and you’ll get much better bagel IMO. There’s also a Murray’s on 12th Street & 6th Avenue. Folks uptown have their favorites but I tend not to head up that way too often.

      1. I’ll grant you that Murray’s has very good bagels. BBCC has a much better selection of cream cheese, though. Plus Murray’s doesn’t toast which I find snobby and annoying.

        1. Odds that I want anything other than plain or nova spread are very, very low. And a fresh bagel is ruined by toasting. Warm straight from the oven works just fine for me.

          1. You’re right that a fresh bagel is ruined by toasting, but I’ve gotten bagels from Murray’s that aren’t exactly fresh out of the oven. IIRC Murray’s was also slow to introduce the whole wheat everything bagel, which is my bagel of choice. I see that they have it now, though, so I will check it out on my bagel run next weekend.

            Incidentally, Buzzfeed agrees with me:

            (“The bagel that won — by a landslide — was Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee Company’s.”)


  3. The best place we found (we only tried 3 or 4) was Ess-A-Bagel. Amazing New York bagels, more options for toppings and sandwiches than you can imagine.

    Of course, I went with the sliced untoasted with cream cheese. I don’t want to mess up a good bagel with too much stuff!

    We went to the third avenue location – convenient to Central Park and Times Square hotels (kind of).

    1. Ess-a-Bagel is very good — certainly in the top 5 and maybe top 3 in the city — but I find their bagels a bit too dense. This is the part BBCC gets just right: the bagels are big (though the also offer mini bagels), a good crunch on the outside, but light and airy on the inside.

      If you just need a solid bagel near Times Square the place at 53rd & 8th is decent. I don’t it’s name; the name seems to change every so often.

  4. Almost every bagel I’ve had in NYC is far and above better than any one I’ve had here in Florida, or anywhere outside the tri-state area. If I have the time, I’ll look for the “best” but most often I’ll take the place that is closest.

  5. Forget New York City bagels. Montreal bagels are the best! So good by themselves you don’t need silly toppings.

Comments are closed.