Poko Bagel: the cure for home sickness

Have you ever been away from home for a very long time? I’ve now been away from Montreal since late July 2008 and I’ve noticed that what I miss the most from back home is food.  Maple syrup, smoked meat and poutine seem to be part of my DNA.

When I had to visit Tokyo last year to renew my passport, I googled Tokyo + bagel and I ended up by pure luck on the website of Poko Bagel which claims to sell Montreal style bagels. I knew very well that nothing could come even close to going to Fairmount bagel, but I was determined to give Poko Bagel a chance.

I found Poko Bagel easily by following the canal next to the Hamamatsucho metro station.  The restaurant is right across the canal, so just walk until you find a bridge, cross the canal and go back in the same direction you came from.   It’s a very short walk from the station.

Poko Bagel Cafe is a slender modern building.

The first floor is the kitchen and the store.  My first impression was that the bagel on display looked exactly like the one I could buy in Montreal.

I couldn’t stop smiling after I saw a St-Viateur and Fairmount bagel bags framed on the wall. It might not mean a lot to the average Japanese, but it meant a lot to a Montrealer.

The owner of the shop took me to the second floor dinning area.  I sat at the counter and ordered a pastrami sandwich set which came with a soup and a salad.   The owner speaks English and she seem delighted to have a guest from Montreal.

The issue of authenticity is easily raised: is it a Montreal bagel if it’s made in Tokyo?  Can you make to make anything authentic if you stray so far from its place of birth?   In the era of reproducibility, the agro economy and the fast food industry have succeeded in producing world-wide clones.   A Big Mac is a Big Mac, wherever you are eating it in the world, it should always taste the same.

There is no terroir claims in the bagel world, it’s perfectly legal to label a Tokyo bagel as a Montreal bagel.   So I was happy to hear the story behind the creation of Poko Bagel.

The owner went to Canada to study English.  During her stay in Canada, she really liked the food, especially the bagels from Montreal.   When she came back to Japan, she decided to open a bagel shop and try to make her bagel taste and look as close to the original possible.   I respect the gastronomical adventure, I wish I could bring amazing Hakata ramen to Montreal myself…

How was it?  Call it suspension of disbelief, but eating this bagel brought me back home.  We all make the individual decision to be an inflexible purist  or accept things as they are.  The bagel tasted pretty damn good and it’s light years ahead the plastic wrapped stuff I can buy in Okayama.

I left the store with a bag of bagels to share with my wife in Okayama.  The sandwich was great, but the story behind it was even better.  My passport business was done at the real Canadian embassy, but I have a feeling that Poko Bagel Café might become my new little Montreal embassy in Tokyo.

Poko Bagel Cafe

Poko Bagel website

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