Pass the Bread, Please: Of Bagels, Kipferl, Semmerl, Brötchen and Cachitos

by Alice · 12 comments

By Alice Lapuerta

My kids are watching CBeebies, the children’s program of BBC, which we were not able to receive until now. It is hard to tell who is more excited: my kids or me! My philosophy is that if they must watch TV, it better be in English or Spanish. Modern technology is fantastic, is it not? TV is a good opportunity for bringing some of that Other culture into your living room.

So my kids are sitting in an Austrian living room, watching on a Korean TV how bagels are made in a British supermarket.

“Bagels are round pieces of dough with a hole in it,” says the narrator in impeccable Queen’s English. (hear, hear! A superb opportunity for my kids to pick up on that lovely accent!). We watch how they take out tray after tray of golden bagels from the oven. The girl bites into one and looks into the camera with a big grin. Our stomachs growl.

“Mami, I want a bagel too! For breakfast!”  This was to be expected.

“Unfortunately we don’t have any bagels … you can have a Kipferl, though.” A Kipferl is the Austrian version of a bagel: it is an incomplete bagel.

“No, I don’t want a Kipferl. I want a BAGEL! Like the girl is eating on TV!”

Yeah, me too. The last time I had bagels was when we visited our friend in London a year ago.

The thing is that the baker in The Village here doesn’t bake bagels. It’s just not done here. A bagel is one of those Anglo-American things. I try to explain that to my kids.

My daughter refuses to accept that. She has a solution for everything: “Well then, Mami, no problem. YOU can bake bagels for us!”

I groan.

“How about we put two Kipferl together and pretend it is a bagel?” I ask hopefully. I mean, how much of a difference is there, really? Bread is bread, right? Who cares what you call it?

Wrong. There is this profound cultural and linguistic importance attached to how one correctly labels one’s piece of bread, whether it is circular, semi-circular, oblong, ring or sickle-shaped. We tend to get quite obnoxious about it, too.

In Ecuador, abuelita used to serve us cachitos for breakfast.  I never really understood where the “cachito” comes from.  Really. Just call it croissant, will ya?

“No. A cachito is a cachito,” insists The Hubby.

Yummy Kipferl (left) and Semmerl (right)

Here in Austria, we have something truly special. We have The Semmerl! We even have historical anecdotes about our Semmerl, just to prove how special it is: After the Turks pulled off their troops from Vienna in 1683, sulking because they weren’t able to conquer those infidels, the Viennese bakers gloated and thought of something truly fantastic.  In commemoration of Austria’s narrow escape from Islamification, they proceeded to bake their bread in the shape of a half moon (Kipferl) and a star (Semmerl), the symbols of the Ottoman empire.  Along with it they sipped liters of that devilish black stuff that the Turks accidentally forgot in front of the gates of Vienna. Kipferl, Semmerl and our famous Viennese coffee.  Here you have Austrian history in a gulp and a bite. They also say that Marie Antoinette later brought the Kipferl to France, where they insisted on re-christening it croissant….

Despite its Turkish roots, Semmerl is what any proper Austrian will eat for breakfast today. It is our staple food here. This, however, confounds our German neighbor up north. They just don’t get it. ‘Cause they insist on calling our Semmerl  a “Brötchen!”  This will make any Austrian shudder and cringe down to their very core.

Next time you come visit us in the Village, I dare you to go to our local baker here and ask for “Brötchen”. You’ll probably get driven out of The Village pelted with stones. The Semmerl versus Brötchen conflict can cause a bloody brotherly feud, a war of the roses, a North versus South civil war, mind you.

Ah, these lovely linguistic and cultural differences over food!

And now, pass that Kipferl, please.

Alice Lapuerta, the Editor of Multilingual Living Magazine, is a regular contributor at Multilingual Living. She grew up in a trilingual household of German, Korean and English. She and her husband from Ecuador live in Austria where they are raising their three children trilingually in German, Spanish and English.

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What foods are unique to your culture?  What foods do you feel strong associations with?  What are the foods that you are making sure your children are familiar with?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rachel O. June 17, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Love the idea of limiting TV to the minority language. I do that at home too! 😉 If you know of some good kid’s programming in Spanish, please let me know!


2 Karim June 22, 2010 at 9:40 am

Hi, depending on where you live , but if you are in the US you can tune Univision on saturdays from 7 AM to 10 for some spanish shows for the kids or if you have direct tv you can see discovery en espanol (ch 436) or veme (ch 440) they have great shows and my kids love them… good luck I hope it helps


3 Maria June 18, 2010 at 1:48 am

Excellent post, Alice! I saw bagels being made not long ago in a cooking show (the food channel being the second most watch in my house recently, after CBeebies, lol), and they are not that hard to make! Had no idea you have to boil them first, that is why they have that soft skin.

Regarding shows in Spanish… well I don’t know about other countries, and even Spain I know little as I don’t live there regularly, but Spanish TV has ignored children a lot in recent years. When I was growing up there were some really lovely shows, both national and european productions, very educational as well as fun. Nowadays it’s mostly japanese and american cartoons translated into Spanish. An exception is Pocoyo, a Spanish production that has been translated to other languages. A very good and educational show in Spanish TV is El Conciertazo, on saturday mornings, a classical music concert directed to children: my nephews love it!


4 Alice June 18, 2010 at 2:33 am

Thanks for both your comments! El Conciertazo sounds great, Maria! What channel is in on, though?

Rachel, excellent question! I am also searching for good Spanish programs for kids on TV. Now and then I let my kids watch youtube (under supervision of course), searching for short Spanish cartoon clips. Pocoyo, yes! also some of the Spanish music clips that my kids looove (Enrique y Ana). There are a couple nice ones out there.


5 Maria June 18, 2010 at 3:16 am

Mmm, I am not 100% sure, it’s either TVE or TVE2. I will ask my cousin, he will know for sure (my niece and nephews even went for a live recording when they came to our home town and had a blast).


6 Rosie June 20, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Excellent! My family were just discussing bagels yesterday. We want to try making some, actually, but we were thinking of the American kind, still boiled then baked, but possibly the recipe differs from the British one – I’m not sure. Now don’t you reckon you could provide some genuine native recipes – in the appropriate languages of course (lol), for all of the breads mentioned above, now you’ve made our tummies grumble? Making bagels and Semmerl and all the other ones sounds like fun! I am reminded of the Waldorf schools in which the children may learn to cook a dish at the same time as they use the language of the food’s origin.

By the way, I bought some bread that looked like Semmerl yesterday on request of someone wanting Broetchen for breakfast… but the shop had labelled them “Kaiser rolls”. Truly we must live in a dark abyss of multilingualism around here! 😉

Actually I find it interesting that even though one country might get funny about another country calling their roll or loaf by a different name, no one seems to bat an eyelid when in English we refer to them all as “bread”. So what’s with that? How come English gets to be considered neutral? What did it do to deserve that, apart from pillage from everyone else? Just a thought…


7 Alice June 21, 2010 at 1:23 am

Rosie, the shop had the correct term actually, because they ARE called Kaisersemmerl here (Kaiser roll, if you will). Don’t ask why, something about the emperor finally deciding that the Semmerl was good enough for him to eat at court or something. And you got me intrigued about the different ways to bake the bagel. I just know about them boiling first, no clue whether it’s done differently in the US? What a great idea about the recipes! Something for Corey to put on her to-do list for this website! 😀 As for the English just calling it “bread” – you guys also have the scones, don’t you? That’s typically British, or? To be served at tea-time…So there you go … 😀


8 Maria June 21, 2010 at 1:30 am

I read an article recently about a baker here in the UK charging £21 for a piece of bread!!

The funny bit is that they are campaigning for stopping things like sliced bread from being called bread 😀


9 Alice June 21, 2010 at 3:06 am

21 pounds! Unbelievable!!! The funny thing is that it looks just like the Austrian bread loaves here, and here you can buy them for only a couple of euros …


10 Rosie June 21, 2010 at 1:40 am

We do have scones here in Australia, but they *are* considered British high tea fare… there are also pancakes, pikelets, muffins, and plenty of other things made from dough. They don’t all get called bread though. Happy to know this about Kaisersemmerl. Thanks! I’m sure that the real thing tastes a million times nicer than the white fluff with the pinwheel pattern on the top that I bought, though! 🙂


11 Rosie June 21, 2010 at 2:07 pm

I can’t believe I almost forgot damper! That’s Aussie as it comes.


12 Lara-Miya June 22, 2010 at 10:04 am

Wikipedia “Bagel”. A nice piece on the origins of the bread with a hole, definitely not American in origin, but such a part of our food culture and a favorite of the kids!


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