Nothing conquers hunger pangs, hangovers, or breakfast like bagels do. The delicious ring of fluffy and filling carbs is adored throughout the world, but two North American cities have bagels intimately tied to their food culture. You can't go anywhere in Montreal without running into the uniquely sweet bagels of St. Viateur or Fairmount bakeries, and the same is true for the much larger bagels of New York, with every deli slathering on the schmear. Both island cities take pride in their bagels, but which one is truly superior? What makes the two different anyway? Does Montreal or New York use the 'true' bagel recipe? Well read on to find out as we begin the food showdown between Montreal and New York bagels.
History and Origins
The bagel's original incarnation was created in Poland, as an alternative to 'obwarzanek,' a lean wheat bread enjoyed at Lent. Bagels popularity spread around Europe, but did not reach North America until Polish-Jewish immigrants crossed the pond in the early twentieth century.
Drawn to the economic boom of New York City, Polish-Jewish immigrants came to the Big Apple and started churning out their native bread. Bagel Bakers Local 338, a local trade union, was founded shortly after which filled bakeries throughout the city with their bagels. After the dawn of bagel-making-machines, bagel popularity spread throughout the rest of North America, and so the New York bagel became the general standard.
In much the same way, Montreal bagels were brought over by Polish-Jewish immigrants, only they had a different bagel-method particular to their area of Poland. Some controversy exists as to who 'exactly' started the bagel biz in Montreal, but either way, Fairmount and St. Viateur opened, Montreal's bagel giants ,both of which thrive today. Montreal bagels took a little while longer to gain fame outside of the city, although today you can find bakeries preparing bagels in the MTL style throughout North America, even in New York.
The standard bagel recipe features a wheat flour dough, with salt, water, and a yeast leavening. From there, they're shaped into a bagel shape (round without a hole) boiled for a bit in water, and then baked. Do all that, and bam, you got yourself a simple NYC-style bagel.
Montreal bagels follow the same kind of procedure, with a few key differences:
- Egg and honey are added to the dough
- Honey is also added to the water the bagels are poached in
- Only a wood-fire oven can be used
The result is the sweet, salty, and crispy bagels the city of Montreal has always known and loved. But which one actually tasted better?
Taste and Texture
Adding honey and eggs makes Montreal bagels inherently sweeter than the New York version, and that is not a problem. While the honey does add a slight sweetness, it definitely isn't overpowering, and adds a layer of flavour combined with the salt and sesame seeds. When it comes to basic and unadulterated taste, Montreal wins out against the more savory, and arguably plain, New York bagel.
In terms of texture the two are bagel-binaries. Gigantic in comparison to Montreal bagels, New York bagels are also noticeably fluffier and chewy. Eating one New York bagel can fill you up, whereas you can mack on a few Montreal bagels and not feel too bogged down. Personal preference is pretty key here, it just depends if you like fluffy and large, or crisp and petite.
Versatility is one round where New York Bagels come out on top. Larger in size, NYC bagels are better when used as sandwiches, as well as holding ingredients within the dough, such as raisins or chocolate chips. The simple and unflavoured dough also allows for additional ingredients to be put in and not mess up the flavour scheme. Montreal bagels, being smaller and sweeter, don't have that same level of versatility, which is probably why poppy and sesame seed dominate the Montreal bagel market.
So both styles of bagels have the same cultural roots and neither one can be considered the 'true' North American bagel, since they started out around the same time. Really, what it comes down to, is what you like. Are you into a sweet, crispy, but a little smaller bagel, or are you into a fluffy behemoth to fill you up? I guess it probably comes down to which city you're from, because no Montrealer will hate on Montreal bagels. Both are great with cream cheese anyway.
Do you advocate the NYC bagel? Think Montreal bagels deserve more credit and totally win? Boast about your favourite bagel in the comments below.