The humble bagel is a staple of Western Jewish culture, but what most of us know about it amounts to little more than a shmear. After all, bagels are generally something we buy, not bake.
This makes the bagel ideal for a hands-on workshop, especially at a restaurant-bakery called Spread Bagelry, one of the few United States outposts for what many people would call the food at its very best: the Montreal-style bagel. It’s never made by machine, boiled in honey water, and always baked in a wood-fired brick oven that’s hotter than yours.
And so last night, about 40 people drifted into Spread in downtown Philadelphia, pumped by the promise of watching the bagel-making process and even attempting to roll their own.
“We’re going to discuss them, we’re going to show you how to roll them, we’re going to show you how we boil them and then bake them. We’re not going to show you the recipe,” Larry Rosenblum told the eager onlookers as his business partner, Mark Cosgrove, stood ready to take the rings of imperfect doughy circles they’d be rolling through the process.
For most people, the Reading Railroad is a valuable spot on the monopoly board. But Philadelphians will proudly claim it their own. The old terminal, of a 60-mile train line that ran between Philadelphia and Reading (from 1839-1976), has housed The Reading Terminal Market since 1893. Filled with open stalls for butchers, Amish farmers, cheese makers, bakeries and coffee roasters, it is a food lover’s paradise, with endless alleys and indoor streets to explore. It is one of the rare remnants of a generation of markets that were created around the turn of the century by city officials concerned with the public health problems caused by outdoor markets.
Every Friday morning for 30 years some members of my family have visited the Terminal. We shop for groceries, say hello to old friends, sip coffee and munch on croissants from our favorite bakeries. The ritual has become so ingrained, that it might be easy for us to overlook the practical purpose of our trips — to stock up on fresh produce and to pick up our Shabbos fish from Tang at John Yi’s Fish Market. (Fish for Shabbos dinner has long been a family custom.)
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