New York's Biggest Bread Obsession: The Bagel

By: Ashley Bode

Some would say that New Yorkers take certain things too seriously.  When in reference to food, this is entirely a good thing. Take the bagel for example; found on nearly every corner, in every street-side coffee stand, in the display case of every deli and behind the counter at a majority of bodegas; this is for sure a breakfast food that this city could not live without. There are annual surveys of the five boroughs to find the best bagel, a hundred or so variations on the original recipe and few bad seeds in the bunch. It is no wonder that the Atkins Diet was not popular in this carb-loving crowd.

Like most great foods, the bagel has a storied past shrouded in legend. There is the tale of the Jewish baker who in 1683 made the first bagel to resemble a stirrup in homage to the King of Poland and his favorite pastime, horseback riding. The King had dutifully fought off invasion from the Turkish and saved the day. But there is also the mention of the bagel decades before in the Community Regulations of Krakow, Poland, a text that according to historian Leo stated that "bagels would be given as a gift to any woman in childbirth." The circular ring shape perhaps alluded to an infinite symbol of life.

Several other tellings of the bagel's birth can be researched but regardless of origin, the bagel made its way to the United States in the same way much of our favorite cuisine has; through immigration.  The 1880s brought the immigration of a large Eastern European Jewish population to Manhattan, specifically the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, and like most cultures, they brought their food.  The spelling of the word changed from beygel, with the pronunciation and recipe remaining the same, first boiled then baked.  Thanks to the invention of the bagel machine back in the 1960s, bagels can be made by the hundreds and thus the American infatuation with this whimsically-round bread grew.

Ask any New Yorker and they will be able to tell you the best spot for a bagel. It may be Russ and Daughters on the Lower East Side, where the lox is on display for admiration. Or it may be one of the Ess-a-bagels locations that boast bagels large in size and enviable for their impressive density. Or it could be my Upper West-Side favorite, Absolute Bagels which has  a wonderful selection of perfectly-sized bagels and divine cream cheeses and perhaps the best everything bagel in Manhattan. Whatever favorite you may stake as your own, know this; the bagel you've chosen is one rich in history and a fad that will never die.

Absolute Bagels: 2788 Broadway (between 107th and 108th Sts.)

Ess-a-bagel: 831 3rd Avenue (between 50th and 51st Sts) or 359 1st Avenue (between 20th and 21st Sts.)

Russ and Daughters: 179 East Houston Street (between Orchard and Allen Sts.)

Ashley is a New York based writer still searching for the perfect pork bun.  Follow her food adventures on her blog, Bodelou Bakes. To read Ashley's original post, click here. 

Photo:  gsz 

For more of Ashley's tips and recipes, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)