Bagels are one of my favorite foods in the world. I could eat a bagel for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in one day. Indeed, I have.
To me, the bagel is a typically American food, something that I grew up with. I regularly ate toasted bagels for breakfast and bagel sandwiches for lunch during my childhood in Connecticut, only miles away from the bagel mecca that is New York City. Bagel-eating is one of those things that Americans are often teased about by the French, it being viewed as a silly American dietary habit like peanut butter or cinnamon (God knows what the French would make of our green bagels, or the Irish for that matter).
So I was surprised to learn that bagels are actually… Polish. Yes, the bajgiel originates from Krakow, and was brought to New York City by Polish Jews (which probably explains why NYC remains prime bagel territory today). Indeed, it turns out bagels are consumed in various forms throughout Eastern Europe, not to mention their cousins the pretzels which live in Germany.
I learned from my personal experience living in the UK and Canada that London and Montréal are also known for their bagels. These bagels were different than the ones I was used to noshing back home, but among the best I ate abroad.
In London, Brick Lane is known for its bagels, which are smaller and chewier than the American variety, and are often satisfyingly consumed in the middle of the night after some heavy drinking in East London. Bagels can also be found in a few north London neighborhoods with Jewish communities. Beyond those select areas, I found most of the “bagels” available in the UK to be disappointing. They were not the real deal – baked (not boiled-and-baked) and soft (not chewy) bread in the shape of a bagel – a bagel impostor, if you will. Let’s put it this way: if your jaw isn’t tired after chewing the bagel, it probably wasn’t the real thing.
The Montréal-style bagel is also a thing. I used to make special trips to the other side of Mont-Royal to visit the famous Montréal bagel factories of Saint Viateur Bagel and Fairmount Bagel. The Montréal bagel is a breed of its own: denser, sweeter, and much thinner with a larger hole, it is baked in a wood-fired oven. It is delicious, but if you’re used to eating a hefty New York style bagel – doughy mass of “carbohydrates” that it is – then you’ll probably need to eat two Montréal-style bagels to be satisfied. Which is why I often ate them in pairs.
And yes, I totally had a bagel for breakfast this morning.