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.
Heading north to Montreal this summer? If you’re not, you should be.
Aside from being the three months out of the year when the city doesn’t look like a snow globe, summertime is festival time in Montreal. From June until mid-September, the newly laid-out Place des Festivals is aglow with lights, sounds, crowds, music and film.
The more well-known events, like Francofolies, a two-week tribute to French culture in Canada and abroad, and the Montreal Jazz Festival, which celebrates its 34th anniversary this year and has hosted the likes of Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King and Aretha Franklin, have just ended, but that’s no reason to cancel.
All that partying tends to give one hunger pangs, and Montreal is happy to help relieve them. You’ve probably heard of poutine, the heart-attack inducing combination of fries, gravy and cheese curds, but what of Montreal’s Jewish food scene? Like the city itself, its Jewish fare is defined by the blend of English-speaking Ashkenazi heritage complete with a French-speaking Sephardic twist.
From juicy smoked meat to melt-in-your-mouth North African sweets, there’s something for everyone. If you’re new to the city, check out the map below to plan your post-festival food crawl.
Late Night Smoked Meat: Schwartz’s Deli
No Montreal night out is complete without a trip to Schwartz’s. Even at 3 a.m. (closing time for bars in the city), you will find a line snaking out the front door and onto the street, while tourists and locals alike wait to fill their bellies with smoked meat (the Canadian answer to pastrami).
Founded in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, the “charcuterie hebraique” (Hebrew Delicatessen) is the oldest deli in the city, and has occupied a prime spot on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, a.k.a. “The Main,” for more than 80 years.
Each smoked meat establishment jealously guards its recipe, complete with a secret blend of herbs and spices. The good news? If you can’t get enough of the juicy blend, it’s now available in travel-friendly packaging in certain supermarkets around Canada.
Disclosure: Though the white-tiled interior and narrow tables stay true to the deli’s origins, the business is no longer under Jewish ownership. In 2012, Rene Angélil, Celine Dion’s husband and a lifelong smoked meat fan, bought the deli from businessman Hy Diamond.
Must Try: Smoked meat sandwich (when asked if you want it lean, the answer is most decidedly no).
3895 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec, H2W 1X9.
What’s it like to run an underground kosher supper club and speakeasy? Itta Werdiger Roth, founder of The Hester, shares her story [Jewess With Attitude]
A look into one of Israel’s largest challah bakeries. [The Kitchn]
…and Israel’s largest hummus factory. [Serious Eats]
New York Times Dining Critic Sam Sifton fields a reader’s question of where she should take her kosher-keeping boyfriend for an intensely treyf meal and dubs famous Jewish cookbook author Arthur Schwartz his hero in the process.
Israel is known for its hummus, falafel and well, the birthplace of monotheism. But beer? Not so much. At least until now, Café Liz reports on the holy land’s first beer expo and shares some tasting highlights.
The Orthodox Union and other kosher agencies are fighting lawsuits against companies that falsely use their name and certification, the Wall Street Journal reports.
What’s the best bagel in New York City? Midtown Lunch attempts to answer the age-old question.
Like many passionate foodies, Sarah Melamed of Israeli blog Food Bridge loves outdoor markets. This week, she takes us on a tour of Akko’s shuk.
Haaretz reports that Israeli supermarket chain Super-Sol will open a natural food store featuring “health foods, organic products, wine and cheeses and special gluten-free products.”
Would a bagel by another name taste the same? The Wall Street Journal reports on a petition from bakers in Krakow, Poland to the EU to designate “obwarzanek krakowski” (a bagel-like baked good) as a regional specialty, which would protect its traditional name.
If you live in… Pasadena check out famous chefs like Paula Wolfert, who will be demonstrating hand-rolled couscous, and Faye Levy, who will give a lecture on Jewish North African food at Chef Farid Zadi’s Couscous Festival this Saturday.
Most locals in New York consider many of the city’s most iconic foods, like a street cart hot dog – best enjoyed while sitting in a park and studiously avoiding thinking about food preparation hygiene – a once-a-year culinary occasion at best. But there’s one New York staple that residents and sightseers, Jews and Gentiles, and Manhattanites and Brooklyners consume with equal voracity: the bagel.
Which is why, when the news broke last week that Albany was enforcing a “bagel tax,” a hullabaloo erupted from food publications and New Yorkers alike. The Wall Street Journal reported that beloved local chain Bruegger’s Bagels was being forced to hike its prices thanks to new enforcement of an old sales tax statute.
You can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but apparently you can’t take Brooklyn out of Larry King.
The Brooklyn-native and long-time newsman will step down from his helm at CNN later this year and step into a new role as a financial partner of The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Company, according to the news site Deadline.
King, who was born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger, was raised by religious Jewish immigrants in the bagel capital of New York, but later left the city and the religion, becoming agnostic.