Everyone has favorite foods that they miss from home, wherever home may be. As an American Jew, one of the food items I miss most is the bagel. A dense savory bread with origins in both Eastern Europe and New York, it is the quintessential food of my people.
Increasingly becoming popular among Chinese people and sold as 犹太圈 (literally ‘Jew Loops’) in Shanghai or the somewhat more politically correct transliteration 贝果, few of the places making this item are getting it even vaguely right, as it is rather difficult to make properly (boil then bake).
With experiences ranging from slightly horrified to extremely pleased, the last month has seen me visiting or ordering from nine different establishments in Haikou that sell what they call bagels.
9. Luckin Coffee
Offering a fast caffeine pick me up and a variety of non coffee based drinks, my incessant searching on the food delivery apps for 贝果 to see if whatever part of the city I was in had anything I missed led to my discovering that some branches of Luckin Coffee also offer food.
When I got there, they were out of the walnut bagel (RMB 12) shown on the app and, as the food they pulled out to show me was clearly prepackaged from somewhere else, I declined to try it out.
Monday-Friday 7am-8pm, Saturday & Sunday 8am-7.30pm. 1F, Nanyang building, No. 81 Binhai Avenue, Longhua District. See listing.
8. Bonjour Paris
Ordered via Eleme, I'm really glad I didn't actually go in person to pick up Bonjour Paris’s bagel (RMB 12) as then I would not only have been disappointed in what I got, I also would have wasted my time trying to find their location.
Although not terrible, the vanilla mousse and strawberry jam tart (RMB38) I got to bring my order up to the minimum required for delivery was also–for the price–a huge disappointment. However, compared to the bagel, although it certainly wasn’t French in any way nor was it what I would describe as either mousse or a tart, it at least resembled the product it was trying to be.
Daily, 10am-10.30pm. F6, Friendship Sunshine City, No. 2, Jinlong Road, Longhua District. See listing.
7. Element Fresh
Considerably more upmarket than most of their stores across China, Haikou's first Element Fresh is one of the few places in the city to incorporate indoor/outdoor seating into their design. When compared to the quality of all the other dishes ordered, however, their toasted bagel was nothing short of a massive disappointment.
Barely warmed up, it came with a paltry scattering of definitely-not-Philadelphia-Cream-Cheese cream cheese cubes that weren't even enough to spread over one side.
Go for the brunch. Stay for the cocktails. Don't bother with the bagel.
Daily, 10am-10pm. F1, Baifang shopping center, 105 Binhai Avenue, Longhua District. See listing.
6. Fime Bakery
We first heard about Fime Bakery from our friends at Freeter and then, a few months later, from a Hainan-born Los Angeleno in a rant which referred to their Matcha Red Bean Bagels as an ‘abomination’ and “one of the worst things [she]’d ever eaten.” As an avowed lover of Americanized Chinese food dishes like General Tso’s Chicken, I feel uncomfortable using such blanket statements with fusion items that have traveled from west to east so I was determined to go check them out.
After multiple visits where they either weren’t open yet, closed for the holiday, or out of bagels, the stars aligned and I got there just as the Coffee Nut Bagel and Black Tea Bagel were coming out of the oven.
Nowhere near dense enough to properly be called a bagel, they were still substantially denser than Chinese bread usually is. Neither flavor was exactly what I'd call a ‘bagel’ flavor but considering what traditionalists think of my beloved cinammon raisin bagels, I have to grudgingly admit that—so long as you don’t approach them with preconceptions of what a bagel should be—they were both really good.
The paste filling, while a decidedly ‘un-kosher’ approach to solving the problem of slicing a bagel open without slicing your hand open, was sufficiently unfamiliar to my taste buds that, had I not known what flavors I’d ordered, I wouldn’t have just said ‘something yummy.’
Also, if you are looking for an air-conditioned semi-public space in the southern half of the city, the profusion of green plants makes this a particularly comfortable one.
Daily, 10am-6pm. 80 Longkun South Road, Longhua District. See listing.
Better known as a classy whisky bar, Highland has expanded their business scope to include a mostly-delivery selection of light lunches including bagel sandwiches and croissants.
At RMB 23, the bacon bagel sandwich with a fried egg, apple slices, and avocado is a filling meal. Overstuffed to the point of being impossible to eat as a sandwich, I feel like it would have been better if the veg, lettuce, and sesame dressing had started out as the side salad they ended up being. The bagel itself was denser and chewier than most of Haikou's bagels but still failed to accurately hit the mark.
Using the same stuffing technique as Fime Bakery, I thought their
absurdly small Sichuan Sausage Bagel (RMB16) tasted quite good (if not
at all a bagel) but my Chinese companion couldn’t get over a donut
shaped piece of western food being spicy rather than sweet.
Daily, 8pm-2am. 1F, Jincheng International northwest gate, Yusha Road, Longhua District. See listing.
If you order in store O-Poke, a Zhejiang based nationwide chain that I stumbled across on Meituan, usually offers shredded chicken breast, tuna fish with apple and shrimp bagel sandwiches. Whether you order from Meituan or Eleme, their online ordering system mostly seems to only offer the shrimp version.
Despite having a counter and three stools, this is very clearly not an eat-in establishment. From the pictures online, they seem to have had a large shop at Mova Plaza, but the staff told me it’s closed.
Featuring protein, veg and a fried egg, my shredded chicken breast bagel sandwich was far too overstuffed to eat as a sandwich. Slightly sweet with a flavor I didn’t recognize, the bagel texture and density were quite good. I didn’t expect my order to come with sides and was pleasantly surprised by a fresh fruit cup with recently cut melon, some lovely fried mushrooms and a side salad which—if it hadn’t been completely drenched in Thousand Island—would have been excellent.
At RMB36.8 ordered via Meituan with the eat-in option, I’d say this bagel sandwich did sufficiently well on both quality and value that I’d be willing to try other items on their menu.
Daily, 10am-10.30pm. No.107 Shop, Feicui Building, Longfa Road, Longhua District. See listing.
3. Xiangmai Bakery
The bagels at Xiangmai Bakery were a fortuitous discovery courtesy of Eleme. Although they are substantially smaller than the bagels at our first and second place establishments, they were–at RMB6 apiece–the cheapest bagels I managed to find in Haikou.
Closer to a sourdough than the whole wheat walnut which my order claimed to be (though there were a few walnuts in it), the exterior crust had a chewy enough texture that I could easily believe this bagel had properly been boiled before baking. The inside, however was insufficiently dense and gave me the impression that it had been yeast raised and left to rise too long.
A quick perusal of their other products seemed to indicate mostly savory breads with no red bean, meat floss, or mayonnaise. I didn’t try any of their far too small loaves of bread but I noted that they included a RMB7 ‘French Bread’ that looked like French Bread, a RMB10 ‘Ciabatta’ that looked like Ciabatta, and a RMB6 ‘German Pretzel’ that looked like a German Pretzel.
Daily, 7am-11pm. No. 11, Zhuyun Road, Qiongshan District. See listing.
2. American Bakery
Other than the somewhat inexplicable packet of ketchup that comes with the decidedly not kosher bacon, egg, & cheese-melt bagel sandwich (RMB18), there's nothing really bad one can say about the bagels at the American Bakery and, prior to my first-place pick opening, they were absolutely the best option in Haikou for scratching this particular culinary itch.
For those in the know, I’d rank these bagels as better than what you’d get frozen from a grocery store in the US but not as good as you would get from a bagel focused fast food chain like Einstein Brothers.
Since the best bagels in Haikou are substantially closer to my apartment, their bagels are off my personal shopping list, but if you are already here to buy some cinnamon rolls (RMB12), they are priced reasonably enough that it’s worthwhile to pick up three or four to take home with you.
Daily, 8.30am-8.30pm. 2 / F, Huishang street, No. 13, Haidian Wuxi Road, Meilan District. See listing.
1. Sweet Aroma
If you actually know what a bagel is supposed to be and that’s the flavor profile which you are looking for, Sweet Aroma on Haidian Island is–hands down–the best place in Haikou to get a bagel. Offering two kinds of bagel sandwich as well as individual bagels (RMB12) or bagels by the dozen (order in advance, RMB70 per 6), they can’t compete with the baking overseen by Dini Freundlich at the Beijing Chabad House but these are otherwise one of the best bagels I’ve had in 19 years of living in China.
American owner Crystal Stephens hasn’t yet expanded to include my favorite pumpernickel and she’s somehow always out of cinnamon raisin when I go, but they have garlic bagels, whole wheat bagels, everything bagels... and she’s somehow even managed to find a legal source for poppyseeds.
The bread isn’t quite as densely chewy as a traditional bagel, but the toppings on the smoked salmon and whipped cream cheese bagel with capers (RMB40) are better quality than most US restaurant bagels.
Monday-Friday 9am-8pm, Saturday & Sunday 9am-9pm. No. 8, Haidian Fifth East Road, Meilan District. See listing.
translator living in Hainan for 17 of her 19 years in China, Marian
Rosenberg is best known for her annual cycling trips through rural
China. These trips not only have her blogging on Cycleblaze (username:
brucianna) and helping people out on the Travel in China During Covid
groups (Cyclist Translator), they've also landed her in the Washington
Post's travel section and are the reason she has more than 40,000
followers on Douyin (我是凡一).
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[Images by Marian Rosenberg for That’s]
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