Some people may be aware of the ongoing bagel rivalry between Montreal and New York City. We’ll get to this hot zone soon. But first, we want to look back to the 50s. This was a time when mankind had to contend with another bagel rivalry between man and machine. While the debate remains today, it’s worth familiarizing yourselves with the origins of the impressive invention that cemented the place of bagels in history. We’ll later explain why Montreal bagels are king. Finally, we’ll take you on a trip around the world to see some other types of bagels.
Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, Jewish communities living in Poland created the bagel in the 17th century. This ‘roll with a hole’ design was a popular choice. It wasn’t only tasty but easy to transport with just a thread of string running down the middle of bagel bundles. The string also allowed for beautiful window displays in shops! But in the late 50s, a young inventor who’d grown up helping his Manitoban father bake bagels decided to revolutionize how to deliver bagels to the masses.
This man was Daniel Thompson. Years earlier, he had filed a US patent on the folding version of the table tennis table. Making his father proud, Daniel’s bagel machine invention automatically rolled, pressed, and shaped the bagels into perfect circles. It went on to be a hit in North America. Suddenly, people were producing 200-400 bagels every hour, and bagels were available in supermarkets. The price of bagels dropped. As if the smell of fresh bagels wasn’t appealing enough, this combination propelled the popularity of the bagel forward. It became a household name for years to come. Understandably, bagel purists, who preferred the tradition of handcrafted bagels, were dissatisfied. But there was no stopping the demand.
All the bagel purists could do was stick to their labour intensive approach, hoping they could maintain a market for the handmade bagel. Thankfully the sentiment prevailed, keeping family-run businesses intact over the years. If you’re lucky enough to go, one example that appears to be frozen in time is the St-Viateur Bagel Shop. It lies on the border of the Jewish Quarter in the culturally eclectic city of Montreal. This legendary institution has been making bagels by hand since the late 50s and shows no signs of throwing in the towel any time soon! For good reason. They’re an iconic symbol of the city, serving the famous Montreal-style types of bagels to not only loyal locals, but curious tourists eager to test mental comparisons to New York City’s bagel offerings.
Montreal bagels differ from New York-style bagels in that they contain malt and sugar, but no salt. Montrealers boil their bagels in honey-sweetened water, and they are smaller in thickness, i.e., they have a bigger hole. Traditionally cooked in a wood-fired oven ensures extra crunch, too! Bagels hailing from NYC contain malt and salt, which they boil in regular New York water. Some say this is the secret to the New York style bagel. The result is a much puffier and softer crust… Who wants a softer crust?
Other versions around the world include China’s girdeh nan, which are cooked in tandoor ovens – a method that results in a fluffy interior that’s protected by an incredible crunch! These bagels have flattened centres that don’t quite punch through the dough, so no lacing string through the rings here. Next, there is Israel’s Jerusalem bagel, which is more oval-shaped. They cover these completely in yummy sesame seeds. This bagel is best served hot from the oven and sometimes dipped in za’atar spiced oil.
Turkey’s simit is supposed to be twice the size as a regular bagel, with plenty of crunch for those who lean more to the Montreal side of the fence. Here they will often serve them at breakfast with tea, and these can also be covered with seeds. Finally, we’ll look at Poland’s obwarzanek krakowski, which is made up of two woven strands of dough that form a circle. Decorated with seeds and spices, it’s only ever eaten whole, and it can be viewed as a faux pas if you cut it and smear it with cream cheese.
However you like to enjoy them, and whatever side of the fence you sit on when it comes to types of bagels, there’s no mistaking the bliss that envelopes you after your first bite of a fresh bagel. Happy National Bagelfest Day!