I’ve never been much of a bagel fan. It’s got nothing to do with a dislike of carbs, as I’ll happily chow down on sandwiches, rice bowls, and noodles. Bagels, though, have always struck me as sort of bland.
Sure, I realize there are ways to make bagels more flavorful, but a lot of the most common additions, like berries or cream cheese, don’t really do much for me. But when I found out that one of Japan’s most popular bagel chains was adding a kick to their offerings with a wasabi bagel, my interest was piqued. Then, when I learned that they also offered a bagel sandwich with tuna sashimi, my next meal was planned.
These Japanese-style bagels come courtesy of Bagel & Bagel, the redundantly named chain that’s much more creative with their product lineup than their company’s moniker. Like their watermelon bagels we tried last summer, the wasabi and sashimi versions are part of a limited time lineup, this time collectively called the Japanese Fair menu and available until February 22.
▼ The Yokohama Lumine branch of Bagel & Bagel
Joining the non-sandwich wasabi bagel in the Japanese Fair are varieties made with mochi rice cake, edamame soybeans and hijiki (a type of seaweed), nori (yet another type of seaweed), shiitake mushroom with sesame, and kinako (a cinnamon-like flavoring) with white chocolate.
▼ Mochi (left) and hijiki edamame (right)
▼ Nori (left) and wasabi (right)
Intriguing as they all sound, there’re only so many bagels you can plow through in one sitting, and for this taste-test, the two that made the cut were the 200-yen (US $1.70) wasabi bagel and 490-yen (US $4.15) tuna marinated with soy sauce and wasabi mayonnaise (which sounds slightly more eloquent in Japanese as tzuke maguro to wasabi mayonezu).
▼ The wrapper says “New York style bagels,” but I don’t recall seeing any with sashimi when I visited the Big Apple.
Initially, I was a little disappointed, since I’d expected opening the package to produce a blast of sinus-clearing wasabi aroma. No such luck, as it smelled pretty much like any other bagel. Still, I wasn’t giving up hope yet. Even with no wasabi experience for the olfactory senses, the ring-shaped piece of bread’s green color promised one for the taste buds, as did the ingredient list that mentioned both wasabi paste and powder.
I took a bite, and found that the bagel is pleasantly chewy. Initially, there’s not a whole lot of flavor going on, but as you continue to chew, the spiciness starts to kick in. While it’s not nearly as spicy as the dollop of wasabi you’ll find served along with your meal in a sushi restaurant, it’s still tasty. This would actually go pretty well with a glass of beer, producing an effect that’s sort of a combination between a soft pretzel and spicy kakipisoy crackers.
Now it was time for the main event, the tuna sashimi bagel, which uses the same dough as the plain wasabi bagel. This one comes wrapped in butcher paper, just like Japanese restaurants serve their hamburgers.
Although it isn’t mentioned in the already too-long-for-its-own-good official name of the tuna marinated with soy sauce and wasabi mayonnaise bagel, the first thing that greets your eyes is the heaping helping of mizuna. While mizuna translates as potherb mustard, it doesn’t taste anything like the yellow condiment or the seeds its made from. Instead, mizuna is a crisp leaf vegetable that’s commonly found in salads and hot pots in Japan, with a flavor that’s just a touch on the sharp and bitter side but far milder than, say, arugula.
▼ Some of the wasabi-infused mayo
Remove the wrapper entirely, and you’ll see the tuna sashimi peeking out at you through the middle of the bagel. You’ll also notice another ingredient that’s left off the marque in the form of small strips of nori seaweed. Nori is commonly added to rice bowls topped with marinated tuna sashimi, though, so some Japanese diners might assume it’ll be included in the sandwich even without being told about its presence.
As for the tuna itself, it’s concentrated towards the center of the sandwich and coarsely diced. It’s not as soft as the tuna in negi toro sushi, though. If you’ve ever had the variety of sashimi called naka ochi, you’ll know what to expect here, as the texture is still substantial enough to make this feel like a proper sandwich filling, and not just a bagel with a paste spread on it.
So how does it taste? Pretty good, actually. All of the mizuna gives you the impression that you’re eating something incredibly healthy, and with a calorie count of just 286 for the entire sandwich, you really are. However, there’s so much mizuna that in your first bite, you’re likely to not even notice the tuna. The wasabi mayonnaise is there to add some variety though, with a creamy yet spicy flavor that makes the first mouthful resemble a handheld salad.
Things start to get sashimi-style soon, though. Having most of the tuna packed towards the center means a decidedly different flavor profile between the first and second bites. It’s not just the taste that changes, either, as the sashimi provides a lot more moisture than the mizuna, even with the wasabi mayonnaise helping out the veggies.
On the plus side, the shift in flavor and moistness makes eating the sashimi bagel almost feel like a multi-course meal. Still, since there’s only a modest amount of wasabi mayonnaise mixed in with the mizuna, as you move from one end to the center and then on through to the other side, it means you’re going from dry to moist to back to dry again.
If that ending doesn’t sound like your preferred way to finish a meal, you might find yourself hoping for a little extra moisture at the tail end. I suppose you could go to the fridge, grab a jar of mayo, and add a little to supplement what’s already there, but that seems like it would just dilute the wasabi flavor and run contrary to the bagel’s Japanese influences.
Having grown up in Los Angeles, where the restaurant Philippe’s has been serving up delicious French dip sandwiches for over a hundred years, I’m no stranger to the benefits of dunking an already assembled sandwich in a bit of extra sauce. Instead of au jus, though, a mixture of wasabi and soy sauce seemed more appropriate.
So in the end, while the tuna sashimi bagel is just fine on its own, it’s even better if you turn it into a Japanese dip.