Dear New York City bagel-lovers,
As a Montreal export to New York, I take offense at your treatment of our version of the mouthwatering goodness that is the Montreal bagel.
Granted, I’m aware that I’m in the minority on this issue. Any five-second conversation with my colleagues at the Forward combining the word “Montreal” and “bagel” usually ends with me having to raise my voice an octave or two as I desperately try to explain why they are in fact superior — which they are.
There are two main outposts of bagel legitimacy in Montreal: Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel. And as any Montrealer will tell you, debates about which one of those two is better can get pretty heated — but that’s a whole other type of schmear.
For those of you too caught up behind the massive girth of the New York bagel to know any better, here are a couple of differences between the two:
Montreal bagels are smaller. Hand-rolled and baked in wood ovens, they have crispier crusts and are less bread-y than their equivalents south of the border.
Montreal bagels are sweeter. But just a touch so. The recipe is slightly different (and some say, more authentic and true to what you would have gotten back in the Old Country), in that they are made using malt flour and boiled in water flavored with honey.
Montreal bagels are simpler. Begone travesty items — Yes, I mean you, cinnamon raisin frauds! The Montreal bagel only comes in two flavors: sesame or poppy seed. When toasted, the crispy seeds take on a smoky flavor. That, combined with a thick dollop of cream cheese and a piece of smoked lox, is what it’s all about.
Much has been written about our differences. Sometimes, it’s done with a veil of objectivity, as in 2009, when the Times’ City Room blog listed the pros and cons extensively, going as far as dragging a batch back to New York to let their newsroom decide (big surprise, they chose their city).
And sometimes, as in the case of food writer Mimi Sheraton, our bagels are quite literally abused. In 2011, Sheraton violently discarded Montreal’s baked treasures: “I have never eaten anything worse called a bagel,” she told the New York Times. But even she admits New York bagels aren’t what they used to be. In the wake of H&H closing its doors, she declared the state of the bagel as “deplorable.” I guess nostalgia dies hard.
I will concede that try as I might to resist it, the “everything” bagel has made its way into my heart. But one glance at the dozens of home-bought comforts packed into my freezer over several visits from friends and families is enough to make me forget the smell of garlic, salt and onion wafting down from Absolute Bagels, only a couple of blocks upwind. It’s not for nothing that Noah Bernamoff, creator of Mile End Deli, decided to cart in truckloads of St-Viateur golden goodies through the night to serve to his customers for nearly two years before baking his own Montreal-style bagels in New York.
They’re just that good.
Maybe it’s a matter of what you grew up with. After all, what is a bagel if not a reminder of where you come from, a taste of home that you crave when you’re away?
(But really, it’s not. Ours are better, sorry.)
Disgruntled Montreal Expat.