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Bagels in the "old country," circa 2006

If I were to walk into the bakeries of Eastern Europe, what sort of bagels will I find? Sorry if this is inappropriate for General Topics, but it seems like a cross-regional discussion.

If you have knowledge of modern day bagels in the "old country," wherever that may be, please share. I'm not talking about Bensonhurst, either :P

While we're at it, let's throw bialys in the mix. What will I find in Bialystok and how do they compare to what we find in the US?

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  1. I'll be curious to see the responses, because I've always associated them exclusively with Jews. Until they went "national" in the 80s, the only places one saw them in NYC were all at least nominally Jewish bakeries and you NEVER found them anywhere there wasn't a sizeable Jewish population. In most places, people had no idea what they were. (As recently as 6-7 years ago, I heard some guy in his 30s outside of Boston pronounce the name bag-ul (as in the paper bag kind of "bag". Obviously the counter person understood him too, because I couldn't figure out what he was ordering until I saw it handed to him.:) )

    Personally, I'd be surprised to find "traditional/native" bagels anywhere in Central/Eastern Europe at this point, but your question has me wondering about the accuracy of my assumption.

    1. If you found a bagel in Eastern Europe it would probably be made by an expat American and probably be mediocre. They would probably specialize in cinnamon raisin.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ChewFun

        I've read that there as been a resurgence in an interest in "Jewish" food in Eastern Europe, as young people there become interested in their past, and possible Jewish roots - can't speak for the bagels though.

      2. What I meant by "native" was made there by people who grew up there and learned to make them whatever particular way they'd been made there traditionally. I agree that even with the resurgence, any current bagel-making expertise is likely to have come from the US or Israel, even if by natives who brought it back. But it's certainly and sadly possible that blueberry might make a big hit there too.;)

        But for the record, raisin bagels aren't one of the modern freaks - they were around long before bagels went mainstream. Whether they were an ealier Jewish-American variation or not, they're hardly outside of the pale (pun intended) given Central European baking traditions more generally.

        1. Not so much a pun as "both literally and figuratively" :)

          (Gee, I wish I could edit my posts!)

          1. In Prague (for example), it's difficult to find a bagel in an average neighborhood bakery. You can get them in Tesco and in an American-run bagel chain (Bohemia Bagel, where they're overpriced and lacking in taste), as well as at Bakeshop Praha (also expat-oriented, but better-tasting).

            In Israel, bagels are much skinnier than their American (and Canadian?) counterparts and look like they were destined to be pretzels, at one point. There, they're called "bagelim". Outside sports events, it's not uncommon to see a guy walking around with bagels stacked on rods, on a board, yelling "BAGELIM, BAGELIM, BAGELIM".

            How's that for "old country"? :-)

            1 Reply
            1. re: expatslat

              They have "regular" bagels also..but yes from American immigrants!

            2. Not having gone bagel hunting in Eastern Europe, I have no idea whether it's true, but many people, including several food historians and writers, claim Montreal bagels are the closest one can come to the Old World bagels of yore. And even here there's a disturbing trend toward modernization (less skinny, new fangled flavours like cinnamon raisin, etc.).

              1. Is there a way to post photos to this board?

                If not, Notre Dame des Champs, #12. 6th Arr. in Paris.

                Unfortunately, not very good by NY standards. But the real question is why? Why buy a bagel in Paris? Bagels enriched the US bread selection while in Paris it really doesn't add much. (Not that I wouldn't enjoy one.)

                1. Here's a photo of the Montreal bagel ('skinny' & delicious!)
                  There's another photo where they're holding bagels on strings on this same (St. Viateur Bagel) site.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: morebubbles

                    My old-world dad used to go to the Jewish bakery in the neighborhood where he grew up in St. Louis every weekend when I was a kid and they would give him a dozen and a half on a string (I'm talking about in the 70s and 80s--though I swear the places we went looked more like it was still the 30s). I think anyone who wasn't from "the old days" got them in plastic bag. They were very similar to Montreal bagels--I always preferred them to NY bagels, which seem too big and bready to me.

                  2. Despite the fact that a friend tells me Krakow is famous for its bagels, I didn't see any bagels in Krakow or its region of Malapolska, nor in Slovakia or the Czech Republic. Many synagogues to be found, but no Jews.

                    1. Thanks, everyone. It doesn't sound promising, does it? I'm not sure if there's a bagel void in Eastern Europe, or a gap in our collective awareness. Maybe there's greatness lurking in Krakow, as Steve suggested, waiting to be uncloaked here.

                      In any event, thanks for replying.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Professor Salt

                        Incidentally, I had some pretty decent bagels (and struedel) in Madrid recently that were made by Argentine immigrants. So I think there's a larger bagel diaspora to be studied (and tasted!).