Cinnamon Buns & Childhood memories, SOLLY’S BAGELRY (Vancouver)

Vancouver, where these cinnamon buns make me nostalgic for childhood holidays in this city.

“In the mind’s eye, a fractal is a way of seeing infinity.”

James Gleick, from Chaos, 1987

We saw shadows of the morning light, the shadows of the evening sun, till the shadows and the light were one.”

Jane’s Addiction, from Three Days, Ritual de lo Habitual, 1990.


By opening time at 7am, the smells of warm dough and coffee are already swirling around Solly’s bakery and the place is a buzz with bagel worshippers, bleary-eyed commuters, and caffeine-fixers. The counters burgeon with bagels high-stacked in assorted pyramids: poppy-seed, sesame-seed, onion, cinnamon and plain. But my senses are invariably drawn to the inviting tray of cinnamon buns and chocolate babkas; cuboid confectionery etched with characteristic spirals; an array which bedazzles the eyes with an optic illusion of rotating bakery. They are alive. They are calling me.

Solly’s cinnamon buns are magical. They first seduce you with their sweet spicy scent, a serenade of homely comfort. Then, as you scoop it out of the box, you feel its weight – substantial, hefty – this is a bun that’s making its mark on the world, impressing itself on the Earth’s gravitational force. Next comes the squidge, that deeply satisfying sensation as you hold the bun and flex your fingers into its cushiony sides, taking sensuous pleasure in its initial give and then firmer resistance, before it slowly springs back to its original form.

Next, you feel for an opening, smoothing fingers carefully over the crusty surface like trying to locate the serrated edge of a sellotape roll. Then, slowly unfurl the dough like peeling off wispy threads of candy floss, tearing pieces off and easing them into the mouth as you go. The outer crust crunches lightly, soon yielding its soft pillowy interior. Like dense marshmallow, there’s an initial chew, but this soon melts into the surrounding smother of sticky cinnamon paste. And finally the taste: buttery sweetness, warming spice and doughy deliciousness.

As good as all this sounds – and those buns are beyond good – I’ve only told half the story. For you’ll find Solly’s not in London, nor anywhere in the UK, but 5000 miles away in Vancouver. And wrapped in its swirls and layers and embedded into the fabric of its doughy essence, are fond and vivid memories of my yearly childhood trips to this Canadian West-Coast city, home to my mum’s family.

It’s hard to write about Vancouver without first referencing its breath-taking natural setting, a world away from my Manchester childhood. To the west stretches the Pacific, whose blue waters gently spider their way across the city through its various inlets, whilst its waves gently crash onto the numerous sandy city beaches. Inland, the city is surrounded by towering mountains, under whose lofty grey peaks clouds calmly roll. Meanwhile the city itself is awash with an abundance of trees and greenery. In this way, the city is defined by its beautiful and idiosyncratic geography, and on this stunning canvas are painted layers of childhood memory.

We’d visit each year, staying with my Grandma, and do the rounds of aunts, uncles and cousins, and their respective dogs ( – a distinctive feature as my father’s family don’t do dogs, and their presence just added to other-worldliness of the place). Each year we’d do the same activities and eat at the same places, so that Vancouver became an annual pilgrimage of people, place and ritual.

Each year, we’d go cycling around Stanley Park, amaze at the toy and kite shops on Granville Island, and enjoy days out at Jericho beach. But what truly stands out are the specific seemingly-small details. When I was very young, such observations may’ve been almost insignificant, but just enough to have caught my childlike attention. And then, by dint of these snippets of experience being played out year after year, rituals that became cumulatively and increasingly enjoyed, they became embedded into the very fabric of Vancouver. My Vancouver. Layer upon layer of fond comforting memory. Swirl upon swirl.

The multi-coloured lakes of Canada’s Northwest Territories as seen from the air. The feel underfoot of the pebble-stone paving slabs that meandered through my Grandma’s apartment garden. The satisfyingly chunky buttons of the apartment lifts.The luminous bulbous glow of the driveway lights seen through jet-lagged eyes at 4am. The early-morning 60’s soundtrack from the cartoon ‘Rocket Robin Hood’. Glowing maps hovering over aquarium fish-tanks. Leaping joyously through garden sprinklers; assiduously timing runs under their ever-changing arcs. Spotting car license-plates with their myriad designs and slogans. Sea-planes flying low. The characteristic smell of underground car-parks.

And of course the food memories… The little plastic pot of French dressing on the flight (so tantalisingly sophisticated to a seven year-old). The salt-sweet crunch of a Grahams cracker. The towering stack of buttermilk pancakes topped with melting whipped butter and thrillingly accompanied by an array of syrup-jugs at the International House of Pancakes. The artificially sweet scent of store candy counters. White Spot fish n’ chips served in a cardboard pirate boat (which I’d invariably try to sail in the bathtub, usually to disappointingly soggy effect). Buttery salted popcorn, fresh from the stalls in Stanley Park.

And of course those cinnamon buns: whose spiralling layers echo the laying down of childhood experience; whose swirling cinnamon fractals into which any I can peer into and relive all those memories as one; and whose warm pillowy dough of comforting memory I can fall into and be cradled.

My Grandma died earlier this year. She was a real character, terrific sense of humour, loved people, and she’d led a distinctly colourful life. This summer family reunion was meant to celebrate her 85th birthday. The reunion still goes ahead, and if she’s watching, she’d be loving the sight of her family coming together from all over. No doubt she’d have a martini in her hand and a wink in her eye. And I toast her. With a cinnamon bun. And remember her. And this city.


And if you liked this post, here’s my tribute to my other grandma, Grandma Beryl, and her tremendous Chicken Soup.

Vancouver, where these cinnamon buns make me nostalgic for childhood holidays in this city.

Vancouver, where these cinnamon buns make me nostalgic for childhood holidays in this city.


  1. 2nd April 2018 / 2:16 pm

    What a lovely post. I also really want a cinnamon bun now!

    • aaron
      2nd April 2018 / 7:55 pm

      Thank you so much! Yes, I still dream of those buns..

  2. 2nd April 2018 / 9:09 pm

    if I could my hands on a cinnamon bun now.. 🙂

    • aaron
      2nd April 2018 / 9:13 pm

      Same here! I’ve never found ones as good in London. (But if you know any..)

  3. Emma @ Adventures of a London Kiwi
    2nd April 2018 / 9:11 pm

    I can almost taste those buns Aaron!

    • aaron
      2nd April 2018 / 9:14 pm

      They are unbelievable Emma! Did you get to have any during your Vancouver visit?..

  4. Sarah
    4th April 2018 / 6:13 pm

    Really beautiful writing! I now simultaneously really want a cinnamon bun, and feel like I know your Grandma. She sounds like a gem, I’m sorry for your loss. Sounds like she left some wonderful traditions to remember her by though 🙂

    • aaron
      4th April 2018 / 6:20 pm

      Thank you so much, Sarah. She was a gem, and still miss her very much. You can probably get to know my family quite a bit from my writing, since I’ve also written a piece about my other Grandma (Beryl, and her incredible chicken soup) and am currently writing about my late Grandpa too..

  5. Lynda Fearn
    13th July 2018 / 1:58 pm

    This really made me smile Aaron – I can also taste he graham wafers and buttery salty popcorn and wonderful stacks of pancakes from IHOP and regularly have maple syrup sent to me here from home – but it was the cinnamon buns that brought back the most wonderful memories. My mother baked every Monday and when we got home from school in the afternoon we were smothered by the wonderful scents of home made bread and buns, upside down pineapple cake, and most importantly cinnamon buns. Thanks for bringing these memories back :-).

    • aaron
      19th July 2018 / 6:04 pm

      Thanks so much for getting in touch, Lynda. Loved hearing about your own food memories – what wonderful treats to come home from school to!

  6. Tracy
    22nd July 2018 / 7:46 pm

    You are a writer that goes right to the heart of my favorite addiction. Food and love are entwined for me and one is not the same without the other. My Sicilian great-grandmother made the most delightful home-made bread and spaghetti with meatballs. Her Nonna’s home food was love.

    • aaron
      23rd July 2018 / 6:26 pm

      Spaghetti and meatballs from Nonna! I bet that was just divine. So special to have such fond food memories, particularly those related to people who are no longer with us..

  7. Tracy
    22nd July 2018 / 7:51 pm

    My husband is in love with Solly’s bagels!

    • aaron
      23rd July 2018 / 6:23 pm

      I could happily spend the whole day in that store and just eat my through…

  8. 22nd July 2018 / 11:36 pm

    Great post! The smell of cinnamon buns in the morning remind me of my childhood as well…

    • 27th July 2018 / 7:02 am

      One of the best smells to wake up to, that’s for sure!

  9. ruth singer
    22nd May 2020 / 1:08 am

    Hi Aaron I loveyour writing and your descriptions of Beryl and Marilyn were spot on I miss Marilyn every day she was like a big sister to me Take care be safe and well Love tp Sophie and the boys
    Ypur Vancouver cousin

    • aaron
      22nd May 2020 / 7:49 am

      Thanks so much, Ruth! So lovely to hear from you. Yes, they were both such special people, and I miss them very much too. I feel very privileged to have had them in my life, and glad to have so many happy and joyous memories of them as well. I hope it’s not too long before we make it next to Vancouver – it would be so lovely to see you. Please send my love to the family, and keep well! x

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