Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Obama-Mama Guilty Pleasure

On the wall in my hostel in Krakow there is a board on which various discount cards for local restaurants and other establishments hang.  One in particular caught my American eye from across the room.  It advertises something called the “Obama Mama.”  Naturally curious, I got up from the sofa to inspect the card more closely.

The discount card was for a restaurant called bagelmama (all lowercase), and it was offering 10% off the Obama Mama Sandwich, a toasted bagel spread with cream cheese, then covered with swirls of Nutella--a chocolaty, hazelnut-flavored spread popular in these parts.  I bet that would be delicious, I thought immediately.  But then, considering the mix of ingredients, I wondered whether there was some inherent insensitivity in this bagel sandwich as it relates to the racial makeup of my country's president.  I snatched up the coupon and decided to give it more thought.

I spent the next few days eating the hostel’s bland, generic corn flakes and plain white bread for breakfast, all the while thinking of the Obama Mama.  Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  The compulsive eater in me took hold, and soon I found myself in search of bagelmama situated on the outskirts of the Kazimierz neighborhood.  I entered to find a warm, cozy-cafe atmosphere with an American, expat feel to it, and a young, English-speaking hostess with an unmistakable American accent behind the counter.  We engaged in a little chit-chat, and I learned that she is from Seattle, now working and living in Krakow, while the owner is another American from New York.

Finally I cut to the chase.  “I think I’ll try the Obama Mama today,” I said, a bit sheepishly.

“What kind of bagel?” the girl asked.

I checked the menu for my choices.  They included plain, sesame, poppy, whole wheat, onion, garlic and cinnamon raisin.  “Whole wheat,” I responded nervously, suddenly conscious of my choice of brown bread.

I stood for a moment scanning the ingredients for the other bagel sandwiches named after real people.  There was the John McEnroe – which comes with turkey, and the Woody Allen, which comes with tuna.  I tried to make possible connections.  I could sort of see turkey for John McEnroe, but Woody Allen and tuna?  Suddenly I was struck with the thought that perhaps the Obama Mama’s toppings were purely coincidental.  My mind raced.  Had I alone infused race into an otherwise innocuous combination of ingredients?  

Soon the Obama Mama arrived at my table.  I brushed aside any thought as to the meaning of the nuts on top and took my first bite.  At last I discovered what I had suspected for days; this thing was absolutely delicious.  I devoured the entire Obama Mama in an embarrassingly-short amount of time and then sat licking the leftover Nutella from my fingers, convinced that the bringing together of cream cheese and Nutella to create something so special is really a positive thing. 

I returned the next day to a packed-out bagelmama to try the much-hyped “bagel burger” – a 100% all-beef patty on a bagel with all the usual trimmings.   Again, delicious.  I sat writing until the mid-afternoon lull and then seized my chance to speak to the owner.

“What kind of reaction do you get from Americans over the Obama Mama?” I asked, trying to sound casual.  “They really like it,” he replied.  This was not quite the answer I was looking for.

“I mean, does anyone complain?”  I asked, praying he wouldn’t say “complain about what?”  An interesting conversation followed in which it was firmly established that while the chosen toppings for the Obama Mama are no accident, absolutely no malicious intent should be ascribed to their sweet goodness.  We continued our dialogue, questioning whether Americans tend to be more PC-sensitive than those living in other parts of the world.  In the end we agreed that the important thing is what is in one's own heart and mind.

And I suppose, in this case, one's stomach.