ALTHOUGH THEY really came from China, I had the best Boston baked beans of my life in Yemen. I had a stunning hamburger in Germany, delicious French fries in Amsterdam and a hoagie in Haiti that was so terrific it could knock you down with a feather.
So to say there are no good bagels outside of New York is balderdash -- nothing more than culinary enthnocentrism. The truth is the best real bagels in the area are often exported to New York, and the best bagel recipe was invented by a guy from Cleveland. So there, New York!
To begin with, a real bagel doesn't have anything to do with onion, garlic, egg, poppy seeds, raisins, rye or pumpernickel. An authentic bagel is made from a dough of high-glutten flour, water (or milk) and yeast which is boiled and baked. That is it. When fresh, the inside is chewy enough to fight a little, and when bitten the shiny outside crust should flake off like thin enamel paint chips. The hole is important too. It must not be so big that all the cream cheese squishes through like toothpaste.
Washington bakers do well on the hole, but they aren't as attentive to the dough. There is also a strong indication that Washingtonians don't want real bagels. They want Parker House dinner donuts. And that is mostly what they get. (Even the Jewish delis, Posin's and Katz, do not make real bagel, according to one of our tasters, a Jewish Long Islander with an accent and everything needed to provide ethnic credibility.) But ask a New Yorker what a bagel is supposed to taste like and you get a look like "If-you-have-to-ask-you-can't-afford-it."
Liz Smith, gossip columnist for the New York Daily News, lives above a Bagel Nosh in Manhattan. Smith couldn't explain exactly how a real bagel should taste (she throws out the inside dough, and eats the rest), but there's never been a bagel involved in scandal or wrongdoing she knows of.
Henry Youngman, New York comedian, couldn't explain either and he doesn't even know any good bagel jokes.
An ex-New York Times sports writer says they should taste like 32nd Street and 7th Avenue. That's why he wrote sports.
No dirt, no gossip, no off-color jokes. Bagels have good karma.
Politicians should stop kissing babies and start bussing bagels.
The readers who wrote in and the tasters agreed on one great bagel in Washington: Bagelmaster on University Boulevard in Wheaton (933-0220).
They have real bagels just like in New York, but most importantly they bake an average of six to eight times a day and are successful at it. They go through a ton and a half of flour a week, says owner Jack Singer.
Singer is arrogant about his bagels. He knows they are good. "We get people who come in here just to take them back to New York," Singer boasted. pHis bagels come from an old family (New York) recipe.
Plain (water and egg), onion, pumpernickel, kosher salt, garlic, poppy, sesame, whole wheat and cinnamon-raisin are available at other locations locally: Giant, American Cafe, Booeymonger, Bethesda Co-Op, Capitol Hill Wine and Cheese, Potomac Wine and Cheese, P Street Store, Celebrity Deli, Eagle Wine & Cheese and more stores also sell a variety of Bagelmaster's bagels.
If you can't get fresh, the second choice of the tasters were Lender's frozen bagels (plain, onion, garlic and egg) available at Safeway, Giant and other markets.
The remaining bagels we tested (the majority of local bakers shy away from making their own) were not all bad. But our New York taster was right, they were like dinner rolls with a hole in them: Langley, Katz, Posins', Danny's, What's In The Oven, New Yorker, Berstein's, Ottenburg's and Heidelberg bakeries.
But in the final analysis, the greatest bagels in town are made at home, especially at the home of Mark Talisman, who makes fresh bagels every Sunday. After extensive experimentation he came up with this recipe, which was printed in Joan Nathan's book "Jewish Holiday Cooking." He says it is idiot-proof. MARK TALISMAN'S BAGELS (Makes 20 to 24) 2 tablespoons margerine 1 cup milk 2 tablespoons (2 packages) dry yeast Pinch of sugar 1 cup warm water 8 cups (about) unbleached all-purpose flour or hardwheat flour 1 tablespoon salt 3 quarts water 2 tablespoons kosher salt
Melt the margarine in the scalded milk. Proof the yeast with a pinch of sugar in the warm water. Combine the two liquid mixtures and gradually blend in the flour and the salt until a soft, sticky dough is formed. (A food processor is fine to start this.) Knead well and place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour).
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Boil about 3 quarts water with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Knead dough again on a floured board. Break off a piece about the size of a plum and roll out into a 5 1/2-inch long snakelike shape, tapering the dough at the ends. Twist into a circle and press the ends together. Place on a floured board. Continue until all the dough is used up.Let stand, uncovered, until the dough begins to rise (about 10 minutes).
Drop the bagels one at a time into the boiling water, boil a few at a time. Cover and wait until the water boils again. With a slotted spoon, turn the bagels, cover again and wait until the water boils (about 2 minutes).Remove to a greased cookie sheet.
Variations: sprinkle with sesame, poppy, caraway or onions sauteed in butter with poppy seeds.
Bake in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until golden. These bagels freeze well.
In the next Why Not The Best we will be looking for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. If you think you have the best recipe, send it to us: "Why Not The Best," The Food Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, by Seventeen; Copyright (c) 1980 by Triangle Communications Inc.