> Bagel's Benchmarks

Bagel's Benchmarks

Morgan AJ Todd

By: Morgan AJ Todd

Bagels have been around for centuries. Many cultures and countries have a version of something bagel-like, even the ancient Egyptians have portrayed quasi-bagel images in their hieroglyphics. (Nathan) This food has ties to many groups including Jewish people, New Yorkers, and (of course) Montrealers. There are two major types in North America: Montreal-style and New-York style.

Montreal-style has been in constant competition with New York-style as of recent, especially as globalization is ever prevalent. Many believe one or the other to be superior. The New York-style lacks the culture and history of traditional bagels as they have become Americanized, as is true with most things American--it is known as a melting pot for a reason!

Bagels are important aspects to the culture, history and identity of Montreal. They were brought to Montreal as early at 1919 and have distinct characteristics that have carried over from their Polish roots from the Old World. This includes a recipe sans salt, being rolled out by hand and cooked in an old fashioned wood burning stove. This makes the Montreal variety less consistent in size and shape, but delicious nonetheless. 

Montreal's first bagel bakery, Fairmount Bagels was open in 1919 and the owner/operator Isadore Shlafman had brought the recipe from Europe. Thirty-eight years later St-Viateur Bagels opened shop and has become the main competition for Fairmount. There are many who agree one or the other to be the best; in all reality both are amazing. Many other bakeries producing the world-famous Montreal-style bagel are scattered throughout the Island though these are the most renowned. This may be one reason why Montreal culture embraces the bagel and why it is identified a Montreal "thing."

Many people, especially Montrealers, believe Montreal bagels to be out of this world. This is definitely the truth for Montreal-born astronaut, Gregory Chamitoff, who took 18 Fairmount bagels with him aboard the Discovery space shuttle. (CSMonitor) The Montreal variety has been put to test many times, some more publicized than others. In 2006 "the Toronto section of the Post challenged the long-held contention that Montreal bagels are the best in the galaxy." (Montreal Gazette) As expected Montreal won the blind test taste and the "bragging rights are all ours--now and forever." (Montreal Gazette)

As for the long-standing rivalry between New York-style and Montreal-style bagels, the results are more divided. A New York food critic, Steven A. Shaw, has stated, "New York bagels have declined so much in my lifetime that it's hard to take them seriously anymore," and that "they used to be artisanal, too, as in made mostly by hand by people who knew what they were doing." (Lee) While a food critic, Mimi Sheraton, made a contrasting opinion calling Montreal bagels, "horrible, they had absolutely no salt but contained sugar." (Lee) Finally, "Maria Balinska, who wrote a history of bagels published by Yale University Press called "The Bagel", stated the most realistic opinion: that the Montreal bagel isn't better than the well-made New York bagel--it's just different." (Lee)

At the end of the day everyone loves bagels. If you are ever in Montreal I would highly recommend making the trek to Fairmount or St-Viateur Bagels in the Mile End to enjoy some warm, fresh treats or the quaint little bagelry around the corner. Either way you are in for a treat. Montreal is lucky to be associated with such a great and delicious food, and we are lucky that it is not going anywhere!


Works Cited:

"About Us." StViateurBagel.com. St-Viateur Bagel Montreal. Web. 16 Oct. 2010 <http://www.stviateurbagel.com/content/?id=53>

Albernaz, Ami. "Battle of the bagels." CSMonitor.com. The Christian Science Monitor. 5 Nov. 2005. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. 


"Here's proof: Montreal bagels are out of this world." Canada.com. The Montreal Gazette. 3 Jun. 2008. Web. 18 Oct. 2010. <http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/story.html?id=6924c3b3-a4e3-4c05-b279-025fc9650627>

"History of Bagels." History of the Bagel. Fairmount Bagel Bakery Inc. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. <http://www.fairmountbagel.com/eng/index.htm>

Lee, Jennifer. "Montreal's Bagels Square Off Against New York's." City Room. The New York Times. 1 Dec. 2009. Web. 16 Oct. 2010. <http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/montreals-bagels-square-off-against-new-yorks/?pagemode=print>

"Montreal's Bagels - Are they the Best in the World?" BootsnAll.com. BottsnAll Travel Articles. 28 Aug. 2008. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. 


Nathan, Joan. "A Short History of the Bagel." Slate.com. Slate. 12 Nov. 2008. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. <http://www.slate.com/toolbar.aspx?action=print&id=2204140>

"No shocker that Montreal bagels won..." Canada.com. The Montreal Gazette. 9 Dec. 2006. Web. 18 Oct. 2010. 



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