Bagels! New York vs. Montreal…. Part 1

Let us begin by saying I am sick that my home town of Chicago wasn’t even mentioned in this debate on one of my favorite foods! I grew up on freshly baked bagels on Sunday mornings in Chicago. Slathered with chive cheese, smoky lox, smoked sturgeon or sable (smoked black cod), red onion and sliced tomato. When times were tough my dad wanting to keep Jewish tradition alive and couldn’t afford expensive fish, he’d buy smoked salmon ends packed in fish oil! But we ALWAYS HAD BAGELS! We either bought them from Kaufmans in Skokie, IL. (Great pumpernickel-onion bagels) or N.Y. Bagels and Bialys in Des Plaines, IL. where I grew up most of my childlife!

I’ve enjoyed both New York and Montreal bagels! Besides Chicago bagels which in my opinion are the best I love Montreal bagels from Fairmont bagels in the Plateau neighborhood with their French Canadian cream cheese! Their onion and their pumpernickel bagels are superb! Another great bagel I’ve found is the Supreme (everything on top of it including pumpkin seeds!) bagel in Baltimore Inner Harbor. I do not consider blueberry, asiago cheese or chocolate covered bagels as legitimate bagels at all except to describe them as neophyte bagels! But that’s not part of this debate! This debate is about French-Canada Canuck style bagels vs. East coast liberal bagels!! Politics aside!

Part 1:

In discussing the primacy of New York bagels over Montreal bagels, one needn’t hold forth on the general excellence of bagels as a food stuff. Both David Heti and I agree—and I hope he doesn’t feel that I am speaking out of turn—that bagels are simply the best. Leave it to other articles and books, such as to the Maria Balinska’s stellar monograph The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, to enumerate exactly why. “Yes to bagels” is the fundamental assumption under which this debate operates.

We also agree on the characteristics typical of a New York bagel versus a Montreal bagel. New York bagels are larger, softer, and doughier. Montreal bagels are smaller, denser, and sweeter. Montreal bagels are boiled in honeyed water before baked whereas parboiling is a characteristic not all New York bagels share and our water has no honey in it.

Importantly, as a general rule, Montreal bagels are not meant for slicing whereas it is rare to find a bagel in New York—such as the bagels at Absolute BagelsRuss & DaughtersH&H, and, yes, even the Montreal transplant Black Seed—not made better by bifurcation and the addition of third party flavors i.e. creamed cheese, lox, or butter.

The salient question at hand: Which bagel is better? To find an answer, one needs to look beyond the dough. On a chemical level, and as has been well documented, New York City water, that is the water that comes from our two watersheds—the Catskill/Delaware watershed west of the Hudson River and the Croton watershed east of the Hudson—has a ratio of calcium to magnesium ideal to the formation of gluten, the protein all your friends think they’re allergic to (but aren’t) and gives dough its elasticity. This, in turn, imbues to bagels made with New York City water the power to have a crispy carapace and a chewy interior.

But it almost seems cheap to rest our supremacy on the chemical characteristics of our water. Much in the same way that I disdain attractive people for profiting from an inherited bounty, I think it is wrong to hang our bagel superiority on an upstate aquifer. Surely the element of the human hand must be given due. In a way, of course, we can claim credit for the water, since it is our man-made laws that have protected the watershed from both pollution and the pernicious meddling of the utilities.

Even so, the water argument is based on the premise that a doughier bagel is a better bagel. David disagrees and ours is therefore a disagreement about bagel ideals. My assertion is that a perfectly executed Montreal bagel is no match for a perfectly executed New York bagel.

Our bagels are bigger. In the psychology of New York bagelry, we believe in the greatness of greatness and the propriety of grandeur. We believe in generosity of proportion, that the negative space should not overpower the positive. Moreover we believe in the power of a large doughy bagel that can be split and that is engineered for synthesis, that contains multitudes and is big enough for an incision, then inclusion. Our bagels are like a python’s jaws. They can unhinge and devour an entire wildebeest and a schmear of Tofutti if we so choose. As opposed to the hardened ring of its Canadian cousin, the New York bagel isn’t a circle—it’s an invitation. And this enough merits an award.

Full Story By Joshua David Stein Courtesy of “Munchies” 》》》》  Part 2 on Friday!!


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