Being an East Coaster I was raised with bagels being the most prominent bread that we ate. Being raised in New Jersey we had good bagels but not as good as those available in New York City. Having traveled while honing my skills as a chef I lived in seven states in eleven years, settling here over twenty years ago. All that time I have searched for my holy grail, a great bagel. There are a few places here that sell very good bagels, but whenever I go back east I always make sure to have a New York City bagel, or a few of them.
Almost everyone agrees that the water in New York City is the common denominator in why their bagels are better than everyone else. I remember one restaurant in Las Vegas that claimed to import their water from New York, but they were not as good as the East Coast version. The bagel is different from other breads due to the fact that traditionally it is boiled in water, sometimes with other ingredients such as baking soda, honey or lye. If the outside of the bagel is soft, like most high volume bagel preparations, it most likely was steamed instead of boiled and that leads to a cheaper mass produced, lesser quality bagel. This is the same method used when preparing pretzels, leading to their crunchy outside and more tender inside.
The word bagel comes from various ancient languages, all with the root word meaning ring. This name was given to the bread because of the iconic hole in the center of the bagel. Why the hole? The origin of the hole is two-fold; the first is because of the ability to cook them quicker due to the extended surface area, as well as the hole leading to more crust. The second reason, or use of the hole is that they were originally stacked on wooden dowels and if a customer wanted one they would pull them off of the dowel. This method is still used in bagel shops in London.
The bagel first was created in Krakow, Poland in the late 1500’s. It was around a few years before the 1610 “city regulation” that stated that bagels were a popular gift for women in childbirth. Some history has the bagel being created in 1683 to be a tribute to Jan Sobieski, the Polish general that saved Vienna from the invading Turks, but that does not coincide with the 1610 Krakow proclamation. The earliest appearance of the word bagel in America is traced back to 1932. The bagel came to the United States, specifically New York, in the early 1900’s when a huge influx of Eastern Europeans, especially from Germany and Poland, brought with them many of their standard foods, leading to the invention of the New York deli and the bagel.
The bagel was popular in New York during this time, but not well known outside of the city. That was until Harry Lender, from New York City, opened a bagel shop in New Haven, Connecticut in 1927. His business took off and by the 1950’s he was selling 6,000 bagels every Sunday. The reason the bagels were so popular on Sundays is that they were quicker to bake than other breads and this fit in with the fact that the Jewish people could not work on Saturday, the Sabbath. This was hard to do with the time consuming hand making of the bagels. He then invented a method to freeze the bagels so he could produce them all week and then sell them on Sundays. Lender’s Bagels was purchased in 1984 by Kraft Foods which allowed them to cross market that brand with their Philadelphia Cream Cheese brand.
New York bagels are not the only style of bagel. The Montreal version has larger holes which lead them to be crunchier; additionally, they contain eggs and they are sweeter as well. Russia, Finland, Poland, Australia and Turkey also have versions. Montreal style bagels have been to space, when a Canadian astronaut brought 18 sesame seed bagels on a 2008 shuttle mission. The bagels came from his cousins’ bagel shop.
• February 9th is National Bagels and Lox Day.
• July 26th is National Bagelfest Day.
• December 11th is National “Have a Bagel” Day.
• Despite the myriad bagel flavors available from blueberry to the
“everything” bagel, the most popular choice is plain, followed closely
• Bagels are very high on the Hypoglycemic charts this is not good.