(Sophia Petrillo Style) Picture it: Krakow, 1610. This is the earliest mention of the round, doughy delicacy known as the bagel. Krakow, Poland community guidelines indicated that bagels were a suitable gift for women who had just given birth. I guess a food that is high in carbs but not fiber or protein is good for new moms?
With a quick baking time and Polish roots, the bagel became popular among the Jewish community on Saturday night after the Sabbath. A ban on cooking ended for the day and they were hungry. A quick, fresh, and hot bagel would hit the spot.
These Jewish immigrants brought the bagel to New York where it quickly became a staple, particularly on the Lower East Side. New Yorkers like to claim the bagel capital of the world, and for good reason: our superior water (from the Catskill Mountains, with low concentrations of calcium and magnesium) makes better bagels. There is some competition out there. Montreal lays claim to a sweeter bagel – literally sweeter. Montreal bagels are boiled in water with honey added into it to make for a sweeter taste. That’s not where the differences stop, however. Montreal bagels are cooked in a wood fired stove making them crunchier and have a bigger hole formed. (I’m just going to avoid all hole jokes. Use your imagination!)
NYC vs. MONTREAL IN THE BAGEL WARS… WHO WILL WIN?… WAIT… WAIT… there’s a dark horse contender coming in from the sidelines! Can you believe it, folks? With a population weighing in at less than 20,000 but with the only Lenders Bagel factory left in the world, Mattoon, Illinois has swooped in and claimed the “Bagel Capital of the World” title for itself. What a shocker!
When the Lenders Bagel (America’s oldest bagel brand) factory opened in the town in 1986, Murray Lender held a bagel breakfast for residents. That has since grown into a week-long festival featuring bands, carnival rides and a parade. Of course the term “Bagel Capital of the World” comes along with the Bagelfest, which is held every third week of July. Sorry, “Big Apple” and “City of Saints,” it looks like Mattoon claimed it first.
New York… at least we still have Pizza Rat. Pizza! We love our pizza here too, but that’s for another article. Back to the New York bagel. The water in New York may play a role in the texture of the bagel, but how the bagel is made is much more important. Two things that make a Big Apple bagel stand out is that the dough is put in a refrigerator for a couple days so that the activity of the yeast is slowed down as it rises, giving it more time to make more complex and flavorful compounds. The next thing you do to make a better bagel is boil, never steam. This is possibly the biggest difference between a New York bagel and others. After the bagels get their cold sauna treatment, the next stop on their spa day is the hot tub. They are boiled in a mix of malt barley and water for 30 seconds to 3 minutes. The boiling thickens the crust and makes for a more chewy interior.
For a true New York experience next time you are here, hop on the subway next to a man yelling jibberish. Try not to get hit by a cab while you jaywalk. Avoid Times Square at all costs. Try a New York bagel.
Breakfast talk: Did you watch the video at the top of this article? If not, you should, it’s hilarious! After that you need to check out Caitlin and Kattoo on Twitter:
Kattoo King: @SimplyKattoo
Caitlin Ruppert: @ruppertcaitlin