I am well known for being a bagel maven, meaning “expert” or “connoisseur.” Some call me a bagel snob. There are only two types of bagels: New York bagels and Montreal bagels. Everything else, including any commercial product, is inferior. Bagels were brought to America by immigrant Polish Jews, and their popularity grew in New York City. Polish Jews also brought the bagel to Montreal in the early 1900s, where they developed a distinctively different character. In the early days, merchants strung the bagels through the holes and sold them from pushcarts, not unlike street vendors selling pretzels today.
Baking a proper bagel is labor intensive because they are hand-rolled. A New York bagel is larger, with a small hole, and slightly salty. It’s first boiled for several minutes in water with malt barley, then baked in a conventional oven. This gives it a crusty exterior and soft chewy interior. A Montreal bagel is smaller with a larger hole. This makes it trickier to put a spread on it, such as cream cheese or egg salad. The bagel is also boiled in water, but with honey, and it is baked in a wood-burning oven. A Montreal bagel is sweeter, with a soft and chewy exterior and interior. I’m not suggesting that one style is superior to the other. I was raised on Toronto bagels, which imitated the style of those from New York. They are made to be eaten hot, straight from the bakery, which is why you will see customers lined up early on a Sunday morning in Jewish bakeries. The next day they have more similarities to hockey pucks. Both styles of bagels exist in Toronto, although the New York style is more prevalent. As I said, I’m a maven.