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How Bagels Became One of the Most Famous Jewish Foods


📷 @haley.truong via @unsplash

If you’ve been following us, you know -- our love affair with the bagel (beigel) runs deep. So it had us wondering, where did bagels come from and how did they come to be one of the most famous Jewish foods?

The first written records of the bagel date to the year 1610. They showed up then in the community regulations of the Polish city of Krakow, which dictated that bagels were to be given as a gift to women after childbirth.
Back in medieval Poland, their round shape led to the belief that bagels had magical powers. Like the round loaves of challah we eat at Rosh Hashanah to symbolize a full and complete year to come, the round shape of the bagel was believed to bring good luck in childbirth and to symbolize long life.
Unlike almost every other country in Europe during that time, Poles identified themselves as citizens of their country rather than of a framework based on religious, ethnic, or linguistic origins. This mindset created the environment where Jews were first allowed the opportunity to bake, and then sell, bread -- of which bagels were an integral part.

Although bagels clearly had multi-ethnic origins in Poland, here in the U.S. they came fairly quickly to be associated with Jewish culture. Like blintzes, latkes, pastrami, and rye bread, which came from the Eastern European communities in which so many Jews lived, bagels came to be known as primarily Jewish.

Many varieties of bagels have since appeared in New York, but purists will have only the original plain water bagels, which are made by throwing rings of risen dough into violently boiling water for a few seconds, then draining, cooling, and baking quickly till golden, shiny, and crisp. They are best when very, very fresh and still spongy inside. New York is said to make the best, due to the mineral content of their water.

I’m perfectly happy to keep eating  bagels around the country to see who has the best ones. I may even consider [gasp] Montreal-style.

What's your favorite bagel?


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