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Culture

Beijing’s Bagels Taste Like Brooklyn’s

It’s been two weeks since the Olympics began, and Westerners here are getting rather fed up with noodles, dumplings and rice. Even the bread here can taste strange. For Jews, or anyone who has tasted a freshly baked New York bagel, the rumors of a bagel shop in Beijing circulated around hotel lobbies, tour buses and the Olympic Green have become somewhat of a fixation here. A few days ago, an article appeared on the New York Times website that sent those who could access the site here running to hail a cab, yelling “beigu,” 贝谷, the Chinese word for the holed-bread, which means “precious wheat.”

Hopefully, they’ll arrive at Mrs. Shanen’s, which is owned by a Bay Ridge-raised Chinese-American entrepreneur, Lejen Chen, who brought the recipe to China to remind herself of New York.

Globalization tastes good, as Chen imports the wheat flour from America, the sugar from Korea and the yeast from France. The salt and the water comes from China. The bagels come in 26 flavors, but poppy seed isn’t among them. That’s because the poppy seeds are illegal (something about China and opium wars)

Still, the influx of Olympic visitors has led to huge demand for bagels. In the week before the Olympics commenced, Mrs. Shanen’s baked 9,000 bagels — as much as in a typical month.

The Times reports:

An interesting thing is how Ms. Chen’s staff chooses to eat them. It is not obvious to them that bagels should be limited to being cut in half and spread with cream cheese or butter.

Ms. Chen says the workers will slice up the bagels into little strips and stir-fry them in a way similar to noodles. “They would slice it and slice it again,” she said. The bagel’s chewiness allows it to absorb flavor without becoming too soggy. “They tried it and it was very good, stir fried with cabbage and sometimes bean sprouts.”

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