Thursday, September 30, 2004

Via Who Throws a Shoe, I learn that Mel Brooks has called Toronto's bagels "mushy". I can comment on this vital issue. Although I've never lived quite in Toronto, I've lived nearby and visit frequently. Also I've sampled Montreal bagels, New York bagels and many instances of second class bagels from around the continent.

You see, only Montreal and New York bagels are really the original ethnic bagel, made by Jewish people for Jewish communities with the same unadulterated ingredients (slightly different for these two cities, I believe) and quirky bagel-making techniques (including boiling the rings before baking in hot ovens, and who knows what other black magic). That may be because Montreal and New York have long had large communities dominated by Jewish culture, and the ability to affect bagel tastes throughout the rest of the city.

In the rest of Canada/US, bagels are poor imitations made with standard baking equipment and therefore with modified recipes. Donut stores that decide to add bagels to their menu often create pseudo-bagels that can be made with their existing equipment. The result is topologically the same as a bagel but otherwise sub-par -- a mainstream "bagel" is merely a bun with a hole. Even steaming equipment produces a milquetoast substitute. It's just not the same, but most North Americans don't know the difference or don't care. Perhaps some soft-gummed softheads even prefer the less chewy mainstream bagel.

So what's Toronto's story? It's mixed. Some parts of Toronto are like the rest of the wasteland outside Montreal and New York, as epitomized by the ever-present donut stores which make such great Canadian donuts (more on this another time) but such humdrum purported bagels. However, there is a strong Jewish community in some parts of Toronto (such as North York). So in these communities, if you know where to shop, you can find real boiled-and-baked bagels, real chewy and dense and shiny on the outside.

Mel, I'm sympathetic, but you should know better than to buy a bagel just anywhere.

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