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December 1, 2009, 11:19 am

Montreal’s Bagels Square Off Against New York’s

 

By JENNIFER 8. LEE

 

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Jennifer 8. Lee/The New York Times

Montreal-style bagels, which are baked in wood-burning ovens, are generally sweeter and less plump than their New York cousins.

 

Are Montreal bagels really better than New York bagels?

 

City Room had been hearing about these legendary Montreal bagels from our readers. They were sweeter and less bloated. Since they were baked in a wood-burning oven, they had crisper crusts.

 

So we decided to pay a visit to Montreal’s bagel world to understand the rival to our native bagels. Montreal, which saw an influx of Jewish immigrants both before and after World War II, had become one of the main world centers of distinctive Jewish cuisine. Two Montreal bakeries stand out above all the others: Fairmount Bagel and St.-Viateur’s Bagel, both in the Mile End neighborhood.

 

What we found: Montreal bagel makers had no problem trash-talking New York bagels, which they found to be too gargantuan and too salty. “Why do they even call it a bagel?” asked Andrew Gryn, a long-time employee of St.-Viateur’s. “It’s like having bread.”

 

He was speaking of H&H bagels, which he had tried when he was in New York. “It’s grossly oversized for no reason,” he sniffed. “You can’t even have your mouth around it.” (In fact, a comparison done in 2000 found that H&H bagels were about twice the weight of a St.-Viateur bagel.)

 

City Room had to give it to the artisanal quality of the bagels being made at St.-Viateur. They are hand-rolled and baked in wood-burning ovens, something that current New York City regulations would no longer allow. The process gives them a crisp and smoky crust on the outside. The bakers slip tidy lines of bagels in and out on long wooden slats, before flipping them into a bin. Their recipe was slightly different, using malt flour, and they are boiled in water with honey. And since they are skinnier, the hole is more pronounced.

 

And for some reason City Room could not understand, the preferred flavor of Montreal bagels is sesame. Bagel purveyors estimated that 70 to 90 percent of the bagels they sell are sesame flavored.

 

Those at St.-Viateur said that their recipe was more pure to the Jewish version from Poland.

 

“This recipe came right from Poland with the owner,” said Gail Squires, a 25-year employee of St.-Viateur. “You go back to the original bagel from Poland. There’s no salt. They’re rolled by hand. Wood-burning oven. They weren’t baking in the conventional ovens. They didn’t have them.”

 

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Andrew Gryn At St.-Viateur’s Bagel in Montreal, the bagels are baked in a wood-burning oven, then taken out out on narrow wooden slats.

 

Montreal adherents proselytize the slight sweetness of their carbohydrate creation. “Our bagel is a cross between a pastry and a bread: sweet enough to have by itself, and close enough with bread to have with something on it,” Mr. Gryn said.

 

But the lack of savory flavor is offensive to others. Mimi Sheraton, a former food writer and restaurant critic for The Times who also wrote a book tracing the history of the bialy, staunchly defended the New York bagel. She tried Montreal bagels last year when friends brought them back from Canada. “I thought they were horrible,” she said, because they “had absolutely no salt but contained sugar.”

 

Her conclusion: “They could not even be called bagels.”

 

Of course, not all New Yorkers fell into the pro-New York bagel camp. Steven A. Shaw, a New York City food writer, did a comparison for the Montreal Gazette in 2000, which involved purchasing bagels in New York and Montreal at the same exact minute and then flying the Montreal bagels to New York for a side-by-side taste test. The Montreal bagels won hands down, he said.

 

“New York bagels have declined so much in my lifetime that it’s hard to take them seriously anymore,” he wrote in an e-mail message. “New York bagels used to be artisanal, too, as in made mostly by hand by people who knew what they were doing.”

 

And Maria Balinska, who wrote a history of bagels published by Yale University Press last year called “The Bagel,” has a much more even-handed judgment on City Room’s blog. “The Montreal bagel isn’t better than the well-made New York bagel — it’s just different,” she wrote. (Another City, London, is also known for its beigels.)

 

So City Room brought a few dozen Montreal bagels back to share with co-workers to gauge their reactions, wondering if our co-workers would swoon over the Montreal newcomer or stay loyal to their native bagel.

 

Perhaps it was a home-court advantage, but the New York bagel clearly won out among those who had an opinion to offer. The assessments of the Montreal bagel: “like New York pretzels without salt,” “completely flavorless” and “dense, a little tough, and totally bland.”

 

Of course, Montreal bagels do have one claim to fame over the New York bagel. They have been to space. A Canadian astronaut took 18 Fairmount bagels up in a space shuttle last year.

 

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Jennifer 8. Lee/The New York Times St.-Viateur Bagel in Montreal still uses wood-burning ovens to bake its bagels, which gives them a somewhat smoked flavor.

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/montreals-bagels-square-off-against-new-yorks/

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À Vancouver, il y a beaucoup de restaurants et d'épiceries qui clament bien haut qu'ils vendent du Montreal smoke meat et des Montreal bagels. Ils sont chers, et pas aussi bons. Mais, ça fait un petit velour sur l'orgueuil du montréalais que je suis.

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the only serious contender i have encountered in new york is Werks Bagel, on 1st avenue. i mention it because they really are that good; i make a point of hopping by to have one with a soup with a macchiato from java girl on 66th street, everytime.

 

ironically, i find that they are prepared closer to the montreal technique (or what i suppose that is?), and they are baked in a wood oven, after they were boiled in honey water. they come out fluffier than most of our bagels yet still much more flavorful and compact than all of that hale & hearty bread donut pieces of shit. actually, they moght very well be my favorite of them all!

 

anyway, if youre ever down there, hop by werks bagel, on 1st between 66th and 67th. youll have to know what to order quick tho in typical new york fashion, or get back to the back of the line :rolleyes:..

 

 

alright i think im hungry now. wonder why.....

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the only serious contender i have encountered in new york is Werks Bagel, on 1st avenue. i mention it because they really are that good; i make a point of hopping by to have one with a soup with a macchiato from java girl on 66th street, everytime.

 

ironically, i find that they are prepared closer to the montreal technique (or what i suppose that is?), and they are baked in a wood oven, after they were boiled in honey water. they come out fluffier than most of our bagels yet still much more flavorful and compact than all of that hale & hearty bread donut pieces of shit. actually, they moght very well be my favorite of them all!

 

anyway, if youre ever down there, hop by werks bagel, on 1st between 66th and 67th. youll have to know what to order quick tho in typical new york fashion, or get back to the back of the line :rolleyes:..

 

 

alright i think im hungry now. wonder why.....

 

I'll for sure check that out next time :)

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Mes deux amis juifs de New York sont venu passer quelques jours à Montréal l'été passé et ils voulaient essayer les ''Famous Montreal bagels''. Ils sont dans la cinquantaine avancé et connaissent bien le milieu juif de New York.

 

''without a doubt, Montreal's bagel are much better and more authentic'', ont-ils dit après avoir déguster 2 bagels ''Straight out of the oven'' au Fairmount Bagel.

 

Ils sont retourné à l'intérieur pour en acheter une douzaine et ensuite ils sont reparti le lendemain matin pour New York !!!

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le probleme avec new york on dirais c'est pas que leur bagel original n'est pas bon mais presque partout ou tu va tu te fais offrir des trucs sur-manufactures, par des gens qui ne savent pas faire la difference.

 

a montreal la plupart des bagels, en epicerie ou dans les cafes par example, viennent encore de chez st-viateur ou fairmount. alors qu'a ny la situation est un peu comme si c'etait la boulangerie pom qui fournissait les bagels pour tout le monde.

 

voici un bel example ... oui, c'est un bagel. pas a new york comme tel mais dans un truck stop dans l'upstate pas loin de la frontiere:

 

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meme pas de trou !!!! :rolleyes:

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