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"The Bagel":

I recently picked up Maria Balinska's new book from Yale University Press, "The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread." I was hoping that the book would shed some light on the baking industry in early 20th-century New York City, given my interest in Lochner v. New York.

The book was only marginally helpful in that regard, but I am otherwise interested in bagels, one of my favorite foods, so I read the whole thing. Despite good reviews elsewhere, I found the book disappointing.

Balinska approaches the book more as a historian than as a sociologist or anthropologist. She provides some very interesting early history of the bagel. But thereafter she is limited by her sources. For exmaple, the book has a lot of detail about the New York Jewish bakers' union, but that story, while mildly interesting, is largely tangential to the history of the bagel. Moreover, because she relies on union sources, the story is completely one-sided; the reader doesn't get the perspective of any of the bagel bakery owners, just the workers. And, not surprisingly for work in this genre, Balinska attributes victories to the union, such as a nine-hour day, which are better attributed historically to generally rising standards of living. (UPDATE: Almost all bakers, unionized or not, already were working no more than nine-hour days when the Jewish bakers' union won this "concession.")

Balinskaaalso spends a great deal of time talking about the history of Lender's Bagels, which undoubtedly helped spread the bagel around the country through its frozen bagels. The Lender family was apparently quite generous with its time. But what about local bagel redoubts that kept the flame of bageldom alive in Jewish communities around the U.S.?

Anyway, as a native New York Jewish bagel afficiando, here are some things that I think the book should have covered:

(1) Why did bagels become so popular, while bialys (which I think are never mentioned in the book), were left in the dust? When I was a kid, an order of a dozen bagels would usually add a few bialys, and bagels set out for brunch were usually accompanied by a smaller number of bialys. Whither the bialy? (By the way, as of two years ago, there's an amazingly good bialy place still operating on the Lower East Side).

(2) How similar are modern bagels to the Polish-Jewish original?

(3) Given that hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews migrated to Palestine before and after WWII, why are bagels (not bagelehs, a pale Mideastern alternative) not native to Israel? Why are Israeli bagelries inevitably opened by immigrants from New York (until they inevitably fail?)

(4) Why has it historically been so difficult to find a decent bagel in the U.S. outside the New York Metro area? What about the folklore in the New York Jewish community that there is something in the New York water that's especially conducive to bagel-making?

(5) While bagels are associated with "Jewish food," the vast majority of the "Hot Bagels" stores I encountered growing up were run by Italians, with Italian appetizing available in store. How did the Jewish bagel become an Italian business?

(6) What, an entire book about bagels and no mention (except for an old picture) of H & H?

(7) The book reeks of bagel triumphalism, but is the round roll sold as a bagel in most of the U.S. really a bagel? The history of the bagel suggests that boiling before baking is the essence of a bagel, but I believe that most bread that passes for "bagel" nowadays is simply baked after some water is spritzed on the dough.

(8) The rise and fall of national bagel chains in the 1990s--Einstein Brothers, New York Bagel Bakery, etc.

(9) The growth in bagel girth in New York. (Bagels purchased at a proper bagel shop are now maybe twice the size as when I was a boy).

(10)More about Montreal bagels. Apparently, Montreal claims to have the best bagels in the world. I never even heard of a Montreal bagel until a very recent trip to Canada. But the author only discusses Montreal bagels briefly at the very end of the book.

(11) What about other traditional Jewish street food, such as the amazing knish? Why do we have "bagel and lox Judaism," not "sliced knish with spicy mustard in the center" Judaism? In other words, why did Jewish culture become associated with the bagel as opposed to knishes, or black and white cookies, or rugelach? How did the bagel displace chicken soup?

(12) How did McDonald's come to serve sausage, egg, and cheese bagels?

(13) We learn about the first cinnamon raisin bagel, but who invented the blueberry bagel? The asiago cheese bagel? The chocolate chip bagel? Were these advances in bagel versatility, or an example of the "pizza phemonenon" (good New York pizza needs no toppings; dreck like Pizza Hut requires enough toppings that you don't actually taste the pizza).

Bonus bagel information: For those of you who live in the D.C. area, there's a great, relatively new bagelry in Rockville, called Goldberg's. Their bagels are the only bagels I've ever had in the D.C. area that are worthy of the name. (Sorry Bagel City fans, those just don't cut it). Goldberg's is kosher, so it's not open on Saturday.

LES resident:
You're talking about Kossar's Bialys, I think. It's on the corner of Grand St. and Essex St. I live a few blocks away, and the bialys are out of this world. Every Sat. night, after sundown of course, they turn on the ovens and start baking. A few hours later, you can buy just out of the oven bagels and bialys . . . quite a treat. I believe they do mail order through a website. I had an onion bialy from there about 2 hours ago. It's a great way to start the day.
11.26.2008 10:20am
M (mail):
Montreal bagels are indeed good (I was directed to the most famous shop by someone, Dave Hoffman, maybe, while at the Law and Society conference last spring) but also somewhat different from the traditional New York style.

Bruegger's bagels are boiled before being baked. It's been a while since I had one so I can't reliably comment on whether they are that good or not but at one point I liked them fairly well.
11.26.2008 10:33am
The Cabbage (mail):
but I am otherwise interested in bagels, one of my favorite foods

At least you're not playing into stereotypes or anything.
11.26.2008 10:34am
P:
Montreal bagels are disgusting, IMO. Flat little rock-hard vile things. They don't even come close to a New York bagel. I couldn't even eat one, which greatly disappointed the Montreal native who made us drive 20 minutes out of our way for the "best bagels in the world".
11.26.2008 10:38am
GMUSL '07 Alum (mail):
I always go to Kossar's after the Matzoh Ball. Best hangover food ever. I <3 LES.
11.26.2008 10:38am
Steve:
New York thinks it is the best at everything. I'd put Detroit bagels up against anyone.
11.26.2008 10:39am
Spartacus (www):
(1) The bialy place you're talking about must be the one on Grand just East of Essesx, around the corner from the pickle store. I love (and miss, in Texas) bialies, but I think it's the little onion touch in the center that tirns off many first timers

(4) The water thing is touted about pizza, too. I think it's over blown. Einsteins/Noahs is not all that bad, if you just get a plain bagel.

(8) As mentioned above, einateins (in Texas) and Noah's (in CA &the PNW) still thrive, regardless of merit

(13) These innovations are ridiculous IMO
11.26.2008 10:43am
Rock On:
David,
I suggest Bethesda Bagel; their bagels are also pretty good.
11.26.2008 10:48am
Norman Bates (mail):
And what about bagel jokes, e.g.:

A flying saucer lands at a service station in NYC. A little green man gets out and asks the manager if he can fix a flat. The manager takes a look but the wheels are much smaller than anything he has in stock. Then the manager gets an idea. Maybe he can replace the flying saucer's tire with a bagel. He tries it and the bagel fits perfectly.

"That's incredible," says the little green man, "Who'd have thought that on a backwater planet like this you'd have a tire replacement for a classy saucer like mine."

"Actually," the manager says, "that's a bagel. They're not really tires. Here on earth we eat them."

The little green man is intrigued. He askls for a bagel and takes a bite. "You know," he says, "these wouldn't taste bad with a little lox and cream cheese."
11.26.2008 10:48am
ramster (mail):
I haven't read the book but I'm certainly surprised that Montreal doesn't appear front and center in any discussion of the bagel. I've always assumed that Montreal bagels are the canonical bagel. I wasn't even aware that there was such a thing as new York style bagel. Go figure. It's also quite curious and unfortunate that Montreal bagels aren't available in Toronto, which is a short drive away and contains a large population of Montreal refugees (Jews and gentiles alike). Smoked meat, another Montreal Jewish delicacy, suffers from the same fate. Maybe it's a plot to keep ex-Montrealers like myself in thrall to our home town.
11.26.2008 10:49am
Norman Bates (mail):
You can get a pretty good bagel at a number of places in Boston including a chain called Breuggers. But there used to be a great bagel place, Pick-A-Chick, on Harvard Ave in Brookline that went out of business decades ago. I also have found memories of the Bagel Factory in Ann Arbor. The fragel was a travesty of a bagel (a boiled bagel that was deep-fried and dredged in cinnamon sugar) but it was delicious.
11.26.2008 10:55am
Eli Rabett (www):
1) Bialys go bad faster than bagels and you can't toast them the next day (Bialys go to stale in 3.5 ns).

2) The proper way to eat a bagel is to tear it in half, and put butter or cream cheese on the end, take a bite and repeat.

3) The best way to make cream cheese for a bagel is to get the neufchatel/lite type and put it in a blender until it flows (best done with two packages). You can add veggies/goat cheese, etc.

4)OTOH, the way you know you are not in bagel-land is when someone asks you if you want a fresh one toasted. To a great extent this is because the unboiled bagels need it.
11.26.2008 11:02am
Sum Budy:
Eli:

A bialy freezes well. Just pop in the toaster/oven and it tastes almost freshly baked!

And yes, Kossar's is the standard by which all other Bialys are judged. I'm not even sure where else to get a real bialy.
11.26.2008 11:09am
Hadur:
Bagels are very calorie-intensive, aren't they? Yet they remain extremely popular in these diet-crazed days. Why aren't bagels generally regarded as fattening and unhealthy, while other foods with similar nutritional information are? That would be my foremost research question were I to write something on bagels.
11.26.2008 11:14am
DiversityHire:
re: (13), The "everything bagel" is deserving of special disapprobation. Yuck, what a travesty. Where's the FDA when they could do some good?
11.26.2008 11:16am
donaldk2 (mail):
Not exactly on point, but anyway - -

My grandmother would sometimes exclaim that some unfavored individual should "lig in drerd and bock bygel." This means to lie down in hell and bake bagels.

I was puzzled by the reference until I had the pleasure of knowing an old Polish-American immigrant. Why bock bygel,
I asked him. He explained that by comparison to other bakers, a bagel maker was held in disrepute. Often enough, they would pick up their very simple equipment and decamp, owing money.
11.26.2008 11:16am
ThreeOneFive (mail):
"Goldberg's is kosher, so it's not open on Saturday."

Shouldn't that be "Goldberg's is run by Jews who observe the sabbath, so it's not open on Saturday"? My understanding is that kosher refers only to dietary laws.
11.26.2008 11:18am
SGG:
I have found that the best bagels I have ever had are NOT in New York, but rather in the east end of London. There is a 24 hr bagel shop run by Polish Jews. Far better than any I've had elsewhere.
11.26.2008 11:26am
donaldk2 (mail):
SGG - Address please.
11.26.2008 11:42am
kimsch (mail) (www):
I love bialys. And yes, they freeze well. Once Upon a Bagel in Highland Park, IL has good bagels and bialys, made fresh every day...
11.26.2008 11:43am
davidbernstein (mail):
Nowadays, most Orthodox Jews won't eat at an otherwise kosher establishment that's open on the Sabbath. It relates to a rule, the origins of which I don't know, that if someone is not a Sabbath-observing Jew, than you can't trust him to obey the kashrut laws. (I suspect the new popularity of this rule, however, is a result of protectionism; Orthodox restauranteurs would not be able to compete with non-Orthodox counterparts who stay open on Saturdays). Given that Orthodox Jews are a huge percentage of the kosher market, it's a rare kosher establishment that's open on Saturdays.
11.26.2008 11:44am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
It sounds like a good book, but I bet there are a lot of holes in the author's thesis.
11.26.2008 11:49am
IBM (mail):
If by "Montreal Bagels" you mean the St Viateur or Fairmont Bagel varieties they are or were indeed the best of bagels.
11.26.2008 12:01pm
BZ (mail):
Yup, Goldberg's is the best remaining option in the Rockville area. It's on Boiling Brook Parkway by Katz's Supermarket (not the one that just closed in Old Georgetown Square, at the corner of Democracy Blvd.). They also have some very good soups for sale, eat-in or carry-out. Coincidentally, they opened not long after Planet Bagel closed to the public (they served only restaurants) in a different part of the same shopping center. Sadly, speaking as one involved in the White Flint planning process, it is likely that the shopping center will be redeveloped in the near future.

As for Bethesda Bagel, I think their product has gone seriously south in the last few years (though I admit to having not gone there for a while).

And Montreal bagels? Maybe it was a bad day when I tried them last year, but as P notes above, mine were tiny, over-cooked and very, very dry. Tried again the next day; same results. On the other hand, I first tried Eggspectations in Montreal, which was very good, and has now opened a (slightly less good) outpost in downtown Silver Spring. Just behind the AFI theater.
11.26.2008 12:02pm
Jacob T. Levy (mail) (www):
Montreal does indeed have the best bagels in the world-- and unlike New York, where real bagels have increasingly been displaced by the unboiled roll with a dent in the middle, in Montreal the typical bagel is a real bagel.
11.26.2008 12:04pm
Rhode Island Lawyer:
An unboiled, baked "bagel", isn't. The texture is all wrong - too light and airy and not dense, like a soft pretzel.

A great bagel in the Boston area can be found at Kupel's bakery on Harvard Avenue in Brookline.
11.26.2008 12:08pm
Randy R. (mail):
1) Because bagel is easier to pronounce (and spell) than bialys. So you order bagels, otherwise you risk sounding like an idiot.

4) The same reason you can't find decent Buffalo wings outside of Buffalo. The place of origin has the best people contanting watching quality control, and the public won't put up with anything less. And the place of origin has many more fanatics than, say Des Moines.

5)) The same reason that most sushi bars has mostly korean or vietnamese people working there. Or even Mexicans. It's a good living and easy for immigrants to get into, but jews would rather become doctors or lawyers.

9) The same reason a bottle of Coke grew to a can of Coke, which grew to a supersized bottle. Food ingredients are actually cheap. The real costs are overhead and labor. Therefore, the smart business person will give larger portions to attract the people who think they are getting a better value (ie, more food to eat than the same-priced competitor next door).

10) yeah. There are always going to be immitators trying to steal the crown. It's just a publiticy stunt. I'm sure that somewhere out west will claim to have the best crabcakes, someplace down south will claim the best boston beans, etc.

11) Bagels offer that secret ingredient of individualism. Knishes or cookies do not. You can order your bagel with any sort of topping. Then you can order it toasted or not. then you can ask for any assortment of fillings. You end up with something completely different from what your friend is ordering. That's the fun. There is no fun in ordering a knish.

12) The same reason that Burger King offers a 'croissandwich.' Corporate overlords are always trying to take something really good and adapt to miserable tastes. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don't. Look, there are probably dozens of people whose full time job is come up with such travesties.

13) Harvard MBAs. If you are going to open a shop, how to you differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack? You offer something that they don't! Americans like novelty acts, and you do whatever it takes to get people into your store, and if you make a dill pickle/ice cream bagel, some idiots will try it out to see what the fuss is. If it's a success, then bingo.

Remember: In America, nothing succeeds like excess. That's that short answer to most of your questions.
11.26.2008 12:08pm
Davidj:
Marx's in Cincinnati has excellent bialys and decent bagels though the rise of Bruegger's and Panera seemed to have driven a move away from the chewy bagel. The bagel was crushed by the rise of the Atkins' diet with its antipathy toward carbs.
11.26.2008 12:17pm
eyesay:
Balinski attributes victories to the union, such as a nine-hour day, which are better attributed historically to generally rising standards of living.
I believe that the American Labor Movement itself is at least partially responsible for generally rising standards of living — for ensuring that the workers share in productivity gains over time.
11.26.2008 12:17pm
BRS (mail):
12) It's not just McDonald's- the local bagel places here in Denver insist on doing bacon egg and cheese bagels. Kosher issues aside (I can't talk because I am usually in line for a bagel on Saturday morning- hey, I'm an Episcopalian), if you get behind a few people ordering those monstrosities you can be in line forever before you get yours toasted with cream cheese.
11.26.2008 12:24pm
Michael the bagel maker:
Related to question 4 in the post: You can have decent bagels anywhere in the country... if you make them yourself.

See Pantagraph.com Bagel Recipe; my adaptation of that recipe.
11.26.2008 12:24pm
CJColucci:
Black and white cookies are Jewish? Who knew? (nu?) I used to buy them in Italian bakeries. And while I'd never noticed the prevalence of Italians in the bagel business, I have noticed the vast influx of Eastern Europeans and Greeks in the pizza business.
11.26.2008 12:24pm
Bagel Boy (mail):
Anyone interested in bialys and their connection to Bialystock would enjoy "The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World," written by Mimi Sheraton, the New York Times's former resturant critic.
11.26.2008 12:24pm
Rodger Lodger (mail):
"Whither the bialy?"
I don't recall a sentence with "whiter" and "bialy" in it before.
11.26.2008 12:48pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
RE point 7, it's worse than you think! Not only is there a lot of round bread being sold as bagels, e.g. in supermarkets, they now also sell frozen items which are alleged to be pre-filled bagels that aren't even round.
RE point 8, I think we're roughly the same generation, do you recall the 70s chain "Bagel Nosh"? I was sad to see that fail.
11.26.2008 12:48pm
David Mader (mail) (www):
The folks who found Montreal bagels hard must have either gone to the wrong place (i.e. not St. Viateur) or had old bagels. I'm not sure if it's the boiling, but Montreal bagels definitely do firm up after a day or two (if they're not frozen). But I'm not surprised that they found them "tiny" - New York bagels (and American bagels in general) have become so bloated you could land a helicopter on their open face. It's ridiculous. If I wanted a loaf of bread, I'd buy a loaf of bread.

Incidentally, the Bagel Shop on Richmond Road in Ottawa makes a fantastic Montreal-style bagel - certainly the best I've had outside of Montreal.
11.26.2008 1:05pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Michael the bagel maker: Absolutely correct.
11.26.2008 1:12pm
Yankev (mail):

Why has it historically been so difficult to find a decent bagel in the U.S. outside the New York Metro area?
Try Sammy's New York Bagels here in Columbus. Then again, when they first opened here they were a branch of an outfit that started in New Rochelle, so they may not count.

It relates to a rule, the origins of which I don't know, that if someone is not a Sabbath-observing Jew, than you can't trust him to obey the kashrut laws. (I suspect the new popularity of this rule, however, is a result of protectionism; Orthodox restauranteurs would not be able to compete with non-Orthodox counterparts who stay open on Saturdays)
David, I do some pro bono work now and then for the local agency that ceritifies kashrus. The supervisor needs to have access to the kitchen when it is in use, which of course creates a problem for any establshment (regardless of who owns it) that operates on Saturdays.
11.26.2008 1:20pm
Respondent:
Prof. Bernstein,

There's no protectionism at issue here. The rule only applies to establishments owned by Jews, and Marx's in Cincinnati, which does have great bagels, is under full Kosher supervision and indeed is open on Saturday, since it is owned by a non-Jew. Establishments open on Saturday owned by Jews cannot be certified Kosher because the fruits of labor performed by a Jew on the Sabbath are generally prohibited to derive benefit from. Food cooked or baked on the Sabbath in a Jewish establishment is actually a textbook case for this rule, so a Jewish owned establishment producing such food on the Sabbath cannot be certified Kosher.
11.26.2008 1:25pm
Respondent:
Prof. Bernstein,

There's no protectionism at issue here. The rule only applies to establishments owned by Jews, and Marx's in Cincinnati, which does have great bagels, is under full Kosher supervision and indeed is open on Saturday, since it is owned by a non-Jew. Establishments open on Saturday owned by Jews cannot be certified Kosher because the fruits of labor performed by a Jew on the Sabbath are generally prohibited to derive benefit from. Food cooked or baked on the Sabbath in a Jewish establishment is actually a textbook case for this rule, so a Jewish owned establishment producing such food on the Sabbath cannot be certified Kosher.
11.26.2008 1:25pm
Gerg:
"Montreal bagels are disgusting, IMO. Flat little rock-hard vile things. They don't even come close to a New York bagel"

Then you've done something wrong. Was there a hot oven with a pile of bagels which just came out in front of it? If not then you went to the wrong place. Was there a sign out front saying the shop had been open longer than you've been alive? Then you went to the wrong place*

*actually that's not true some of the new places like at Faubourg are good, and some of the old places have since replaced their mixmasters which make the dough come out with a different texture.

A good Montreal bagel is still warm from the oven. They should hand you the bagels in a paper bag to let the moisture out as they cool and give you a plastic bag to put them in once they've cooled.

I've always been puzzled why NYC bagels are considered noteworthy -- they seem like just round rolls with dimples in the centre. Montreal bagels are sweeter, chewier, and have a very different crumb -- large air bubbles rather than the caky texture of NYC bagels. And of course they're actually shaped like bagels.
11.26.2008 1:26pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
"I've always been puzzled why NYC bagels are considered noteworthy -- they seem like just round rolls with dimples in the centre."

As you noted w.r.t. Montreal: if that's what you're getting, you're in the wrong shop. An interesting paradox about NYC: due to the sheer hugeness of the city and the volume of stores, there are plenty of places in NYC where you can get traditional NYC foods made very poorly. It's probably statistically easier in NYC to get bad bagels (or pizza, or pastrami) then good. But the good is VERY good.
11.26.2008 1:54pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Just another me too, agreeing with almost all of what was said.

Bruegger's almost gets it.

Some years ago, Dunkin' Donuts tried bagels. Their campaign slogan was "It's round, it's got a hole, we understand it" and that pretty much described what they were serving. It might have been toroidal, but it wasn't a bagel.
(They have a second incarnation of bagels, but they still don't get the with part of with cream cheese - some day I will order a bagel with cream cheese, and a coffee with milk and sugar ("regular") and complain that they didn't give me the milk and sugar on the side.)

Sun-dried tomato is OK with me, but don't give me anything sweet that belongs in a muffin.

(My Chesler ancestors come from a shtetl outside Bialystok. A good friend's ancestors were from the city itself, which means, as she says, "We don't have holes.")
11.26.2008 2:07pm
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer (mail):
davidj,

I second your approval of Marx's. I pick up a dozen every other week or so. In fact, I had a couple about an hour ago. When we lived in Lexington, KY for two years, I had to make my own bagels. Of course, one notes the little differences at Marx's. For example, they have "combo" bagels instead of "everything" bagels. And the last time I was there, the guy in front of me asked for a "half-and-half" cookie instead of a "black-and-white." Idiot. But the biggest travesty of all is the Bengal bagel: pumpernickel with orange food coloring on half of it.
11.26.2008 2:09pm
Azatoth:
[smartass]
Will bagels still be legal after His Holiness, the Ayatollah Obama, turns the country over to the weird beards to run under Sharia law and Jewishness is outlawed?
[/smartass]
11.26.2008 2:09pm
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer (mail):

New York thinks it is the best at everything. I'd put Detroit bagels up against anyone.


Steve, there's a reason the line "If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere," is NOT in a song about Detroit.
11.26.2008 2:11pm
SecondAmendmentSister:
Burger King had the Bagel sandwich first, of the big chains. So McDonald's copied them eventually. All marketing. Check with BK on the origin.
11.26.2008 2:18pm
Patrick216:
David B.:

You commented that many Orthodox Jews would not trust a non-Sabbath-observing Jew to obey kosher laws. But where I live (Ohio), I see Orthodox Sabbath-observing Jews shopping at commercial groceries and other places that are open 7 days a week, and they buy meat and other products there no problem. (The stores have signs in their butcher sections indicating what is kosher and what is not, and the kosher stuff is usually segregated in a separate display case). Now, I am not a Jew myself, so this is way outside my jurisdiction...but I just found this rule interesting.
11.26.2008 2:19pm
Nick Beat:
Michael, say what you want, but Detroit has some good, authentic bagels.

And regarding the original post, it's Lender's, not Lendner's.
11.26.2008 2:27pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Patrick,

Another commenter said the rule is actually based on the principle that you can't derive benefit from the labor of a Jew on the Sabbath, which is different from what I had been told. But if so, even there, enforcement seems inconsistent. Orthodox Jews will, in fact, buy products from general grocery stores owned by Jews, or for that matter, eat kosher food on Carnival Cruise Lines (owned by Ted Arison) or in hotels owned by Jews. So what gives? Again, I think it's primarily protectionist.
11.26.2008 2:50pm
Respondent:
Prof. Bernstein,

Packaged foods are considered to present a problem because there was no physical change done to the food, so they aren't considered fruits of forbidden labor. Food from hotels and cruises would indeed present a problem if the Jewish owner was paid specifically for the food; since the food is just included in the price of the hotel or cruise, it is really no different from renting an aprtment for the month which naturally includes Saturdays. As such, there is no objection to eating the food as long as it wasn't actually cooked or otherwise heated on the Sabbath in a manner that violates the Sabbath. Kosher supervision agencies in these places ensure that the food is all cooked before Friday night at sunset, and kept warm in Sabbath complient ways.
11.26.2008 3:02pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
Oh God. Bagels.

When my wife and I moved to the DC area (Montgomery County, MD, actually), we inadvertently moved into a heavily Jewish neighborhood. The three things that struck us was a) the fact that only two houses on the block put out Christmas decorations, b) that Jewish delis were really great places to eat and c) Passover means something more than when the Last Supper occurred.

Spiritually, it was a great experience. My Christian congregation occasionally met with the local Conservative rabbi who taught us a little humility about viewing Jesus from a 2000-year perspective that has been willfully ignorant of its cultural context. The recognition of the "Judeo" part of a shared Judeo-Christian tradition is not a gimmick, but an evolutionary change in theologic perspective for a lot of Christians who are viewing their faith in a very different historical and cultural light.

Gastronomically, it was stunning. Our favorite haunt was BJ Pumpernickle's in Olney, MD, run at the time by Barry and Jerry Schwartz. I understand your taste for New York bagels, but I gotta say that the food there was impressive. Morning bagels with lox, tomato, onion, lettuce and a little cream cheese is like heroin. Fried matzo. Latkes with apple sauce. Lamb knishes. Mile high cheesecake. Man.

Then we moved to rural Georgia. It was a great place, but we ended up going through physical withdrawal. We couldn't even *buy* lox. We had to move. I still blame Barry.
11.26.2008 4:04pm
pdxbob:
What came first, the bagel or the lox?

After just going through the process for making lox (Nova, cold smoked, if you must know) I have to wonder if it was the inspiration for the invention of the bagel, or vice versa.
11.26.2008 4:23pm
Milton Mbongo:
Look, this whole business depends on your point of view:

If you are a traditionalist, you want to have small boiled-before-baking bagels with traditional toppings (salt, poppy seed, onion, garlic, sesame or a *very* restained everything) and a few razor-thin slices of wild-caught mildly-smoked Atlantic salmon and a small schmear (sp?).

If you are a new age person, then anything goes: giant soft cranberry-tofu bagels with turkducken infused herring rossel on a bed of organic bar-b-q pork 'n' spicy goat cheese with sashimi chitterlings and Goa jerk goat.

Let's not be judgemental...
11.26.2008 4:26pm
kimsch (mail) (www):
there's Einstein's. You can order a bagel with a schmear there, but they don't have bialys...
11.26.2008 4:38pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
The Pantagraph recipe makes it clear that the bagel is actually a simplified version of a Laugenbrez'n. The characteristic pretzel shape represents a person at prayer.

Which came first, the pretzel or the bagel?

When I was last in NYC, the two contenders for top bagel were H&H and Ess-a-bagel. H&H is also convenient to Zabar's. Who has the crown these days?

In Chicago, try New York Bagel and Bialy in Lincolnwood. In the SF Bay Area, House of Bagels is quite OK, although they sell out very early.
11.26.2008 5:07pm
Yankev (mail):

You commented that many Orthodox Jews would not trust a non-Sabbath-observing Jew to obey kosher laws. But where I live (Ohio), I see Orthodox Sabbath-observing Jews shopping at commercial groceries and other places that are open 7 days a week, and they buy meat and other products there no problem.
See Respondent's answer above. Buying a wrapped,sealed certified product (e.g. meat) that was prepared elsewhwere is not an issue. The seal of the certifying agency is your guaranty that the meat was slaughtered, cut, rinsed, salted (to remove blood) and wrapped by or under direct supervision of an Orthodox Rabbi or a knowledgable observant Orthodox Jew who is reporting to one.

Here in Columbus, there is only one store that cuts and processes kosher meat. The others buy packaged meat from the processor. The one store that carries fresh meat has an extensive written agreement with the supervising agency. Among other things, the agreement requires all work in the department to come to an end in time for the suprevisors to get home for the Sabbath and Holy Days. If you shop there on Friday night or Saturday, you will find the kitchen locked and nothing being produced, with only packaged, wrapped and sealed items for sale. If you come during the week while the kitchen is open, you can have meat or fish cooked to order, buy fresh salads in bulk, get a rotisserie chicken, etc.

No protectionism -- just protection of the kosher consumer to make sure that products sold as kosher are indeed kosher.
(The stores have signs in their butcher sections indicating what is kosher and what is not, and the kosher stuff is usually segregated in a separate display case). Now, I am not a Jew myself, so this is way outside my jurisdiction...but I just found this rule interesting.
11.26.2008 5:07pm
Yankev (mail):
Sorry, that should have read have meat or fish cut to order.
11.26.2008 5:09pm
Jim Hu:
As noted above, there are bad bagels even in NY. To me, echt bagels come from specific neighborhoods in Brooklyn around Ave J. I know this without having ever lived in NYC. My PhD advisor's mother used to bring bagels, lox and whitefish to Madison, and the lab got to partake. She even brought butter from NYC to Wisconsin. Because it was better, she said. And shockingly, she was right! Having those bagels was like the first time I tasted the real stuff, after thinking Korbel was suitable "champagne" for celebrations. Or having brisket in Texas after trying it in BBQ places in Boston. Not the same thing. We can find brisket here that's worse than what I had in Boston. But the good stuff is in a whole different league.

In the Boston area, a passable bagel used to be sold at Kupel's near Coolige Corner in Brookline. Breuggers? Feh.
11.26.2008 7:23pm
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer (mail):

When I was last in NYC, the two contenders for top bagel were H&H and Ess-a-bagel. H&H is also convenient to Zabar's. Who has the crown these days?


We moved away in 2004, and I loved H&H (never had Ess-a-Bagel), but Murry's on 13th St. and 6th Ave. ran a very close second. What I wouldn't do for one of their everything bagels with cream cheese, belly lox, and red onion right now.
11.26.2008 8:58pm
whit:
i live in seattle and cannot find a good bagel to save my life.

blech!

the delis here suck so badly i started doing my own pickling, so i could have a REAL sour pickle.
11.27.2008 1:32am
Arkady:

(5) While bagels are associated with "Jewish food," the vast majority of the "Hot Bagels" stores I encountered growing up were run by Italians, with Italian appetizing available in store. How did the Jewish bagel become an Italian business?


Maybe like this: Many years ago, when I was living in Cambridge, Mass, I went into Savenor's (Julia Child's favorite market). Mrs. Savenor was behind the counter, and I asked if they had any sourdough bread. "Oh," she said, "we have some wonderful Jewish sourdough bread." They did, it wasn't, but I gave her an A for effort.
11.27.2008 8:04am
Allan (mail):
In Portland there are a couple of reasonably good bagel sources. Kettelman's sells boiled bagels, but they are in the giant format favored by so many. At the Portland Farmer's Market on Saturday, and the Hillsdale market on Sunday, there's a vendor with an oven that supplies smaller, very respectable bagels. Easy to find: just look for the big crowd of customers. A notch down is Kornblatt's Delicatessen, still pretty decent, though.
11.27.2008 10:34am
Tony Tutins (mail):
we have some wonderful Jewish sourdough bread

A couple of important points: The flavor of sourdough depends on the local microbes, which will sooner or later overwhelm any starter brought in from elsewhere. (I suppose someone in Cambrdge could culture SF's local yeast and bacteria in a lab, though.) Most people associate the term sourdough with SF's sourdough bread, which is made from white flour. In contrast, Jewish sourdough bread is likely to be rye and wheat bread. (Confusingly, true sourdough rye is all but unobtainable in the SF Bay Area. One commonly available bread is made from a fake starter featuring onion.)
11.27.2008 1:38pm
MattBilinskyChaosOutofOrder (mail) (www):
As a supposed namesake of the author and a UCLA Law School alum (although unfortunately never a student of Professor Volokh's), I must point out that the name of the author of the Bagel Book, is actually "Maria Balinska", not Balinski. At this point I will flatter myself and assume the error was a Freudian slip on the part of Mr. Volokh who had heard my name bandied about around the law school at one point or another. Nevertheless, unfortunately no relation.

http://chaosoutoforder.wordpress.com/
11.27.2008 6:11pm
LM (mail):

At this point I will flatter myself and assume the error was a Freudian slip on the part of Mr. Volokh who had heard my name bandied about around the law school at one point or another. Nevertheless, unfortunately no relation.

More like Freudian ventriloquism if Eugene made the mistake in a post by David Bernstein.
11.27.2008 7:14pm
LM (mail):
When I left NYC 20 years ago the word on the street was that were only two places still making bagels the old fashioned way (boil, then bake) and by hand. One was on the lower east side, I think on Grand Street, and the name escapes me. The other was "Bagel Oasis." For lightness* and texture they were in their own league.

(*I realize it may seem oxymoronic to talk about a "light" bagel, but it's relative.)
11.27.2008 7:43pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

the name of the author of the Bagel Book, is actually "Maria Balinska", not Balinski.

The reason for this, of course, is that Maria is a female. Polish surnames are adjectives, and inflect appropriately. The best known example of this is Maria Sklodowska Cuie
11.28.2008 11:00am
Tony Tutins (mail):
Curie!!!

stpuid keyboard
11.28.2008 11:01am
grackle (mail):
If you ever wander far from the great urban bagel producing regions, excellent bagels can be found at Los Bagels, in Arcata CA, near the Oregon border. Good rugelas too. Word is that one of the founders is from a Hispano-Jewish family. I think that a number of years ago their bagels were entered into a NY bagel contest and were judged very highly.
11.28.2008 1:38pm
whit:

Word is that one of the founders is from a Hispano-Jewish family


Juan Epstein?

(from wikipedia)

Juan Luis Pedro Philippo DeHuevos Epstein
(Robert Hegyes)
A fiercely proud Puerto Rican Jew (his father was Puerto Rican; his mother's name was Bibbermann), and one of the toughest students at Buchanan High. He normally walked with a tough-man strut, wore a red handkerchief hanging out of his right back pocket, and was voted "Most Likely To Take A Life" by his peers. In the season one episode, One Of Our Sweathogs Is Missing, Epstein was shown to be the sixth child in his family, although his mother had 10. Epstein was also known to have a "buddy" relationship with Principal Lazarus as he often referred to him by his first name, Jack. On a few occasions when Kotter would do his Groucho Marx impersonation, Epstein would jump in and impersonate Marx Brother Chico. Epstein's height and hair are common jokes associated with him.

Epstein's Catchphrase:

"Hey, Mr. Kotter, I got a note!"
(The phony notes, excusing Epstein from classes and other sundry functions, were always written by Epstein himself, though he claimed they were signed by, as written, "Epstein's Mother". Epstein would lip-synch the wording of the note while Kotter would read it aloud, usually proving the note was written by Epstein himself).
11.28.2008 2:21pm
Mad Max (mail):
"I was hoping that the book would shed some light on the baking industry in early 20th-century New York City, given my interest in Lochner v. New York.
"The book was only marginally helpful in that regard . . ."
So it seems there was a hole in the author's coverage.

"the book has a lot of detail about the New York Jewish bakers' union, but that story, while mildly interesting, is largely tangential to the history of the bagel . . ."

What do you mean? There is a fascinating story there about the numerous strikes and lox-outs in the bagel industry.

"How did the Jewish bagel become an Italian business?"

The Italians made the Jewish bagel-makers an offer they couldn't refuse. It was either turn over the bagel business to the Mafia, or sleep with the knishes.

"The history of the bagel suggests that boiling before baking is the essence of a bagel, but I believe that most bread that passes for "bagel" nowadays is simply baked after some water is sprited on the dough."

I believe Maimonides had a lengthy discussion of this subject.
11.29.2008 10:09am
liberty (mail) (www):
My old family friend says, of books on bialys etc:


I think it's the one called "the bialy eaters" I looked on Amazon and found it. There was, as I recall, some history of the town bialystoker in poland and then stuff about the bread. I used to live on Clinton street across from Kossar's bakery. I could go and get fresh hot bialys 24/7.........I's fetch a few just exactly when dinner was ready. There was an Italian guy who was a baker there.....Paul Viani.....whenever I'd have an art opening, he'd bake me several huge ones......maybe three feet across. They must use different flour now. They're not as good.



Yum.
11.29.2008 12:12pm