Noah Kaplan, Contributor
“I love bread.” – Oprah Winfrey
I believe most of us can identify with this quote on a spiritual level (unless you’re the type who can survive solely on kale, avocado, and crushed dreams). But whether you’re from Montreal or New York, you probably have a strong opinion on bagels.
They’re more than the cellophane-wrapped yeast circles that you see in the carb section of the supermarket. Where I come from, bagels have their own quasi-cult following, and cellophane might as well be blasphemy. Everyone has a favorite place to pick up a fresh, hot bagel. Saturday morning has you feeling too lazy to make breakfast? Pick up a bagel. Running too late for class to sit down and eat something? Pick up a bagel. Just need some warm carbohydratey goodness, piled with butter? Pick up a frickin’ bagel.
That is the mentality when you grow up Jewish in the suburbs of New York City as I did. Bagels are my culture, and – like any good New Yorker – I take them very seriously.
I have so many childhood memories of going to pick up fresh bagels. I’d watch them, still-piping hot, fall from the conveyer belt, and the smell would fill the room. Magically, some bagels would disappear on the car ride back home.
Good New York bagels are fluffy on the inside, and slightly golden and somewhat crunchy on the outside. The classic sesame seeds are concentrated heavily on the top, and the holes in the middle are nearly closed shut. Slap on some schmear, and you’re good to go.
As for Montreal bagels, they aren’t as thick, but seem to be a bit denser on average. They can be entirely covered in sesame seeds, and have a slightly sweeter flavor. Best served hot walking down a street in the Mile End in summer. The famous places: Fairmont and Saint Viateur, each with a fiercely loyal following (I told you – cults).
I must confess: I have a grandmother from Montreal, so any time a relative was coming down we had them bring a few dozen Fairmount sesames and a bozo or two for the freezer. Don’t get me wrong, freshly baked is always the way to go, but diversity is a cause for celebration, even in frozen bagels.
In the spirit of cross-border comradery, I cannot definitively say which is better. Eastern European Jewish immigrants brought the bagel to both cities in the 20th Century. The traditions just grew apart. Homogeny never did anything for humanity anyway, right?
Bagels have wedged themselves into our collective North American culture. After all, a brunch is never quite as good as it could be if it doesn’t include at least half an everything (or, an all-dressed, depending on the side of the border). And while our bagels may be different, they’re all still delicious. It doesn’t matter what country I’m in: Canada or America, my freezer will always be filled to the brim with bagels.