You are here:   Civilisation >  Books > The Bread with the Hole

My definition of heaven on earth is to sit in the Grand Stand at Lord's, watching a Test match on a sunny summer's day, with a glass of chilled white wine in one hand and a smoked salmon bagel, bought fresh that morning from Ronnie's Bagel Bakery in West Hampstead, in the other. Note that it has to be a bagel, not a bridge roll or a baguette. Why that is, I'm not sure: something to do with the extra chewiness of the bagel, perhaps, because the dough is boiled before baking. But maybe it's because the bagel is, frankly, chic; that is quite something for a humble doughnut-shaped bread roll with a hole in the middle.

Until recently, it was thought of as essentially a Jewish staple, sold and consumed largely in Jewish areas of big cities, notably New York (which some prefer to call the Big Bagel, rather than the Big Apple). But as Maria Balinska points out in this mostly fascinating brief history, the bagel has now broken out of the ghetto and can be bought nearly everywhere.

This may be the best thing since sliced bread, which was actually the worst thing that ever happened in the long history of baking, although the rapid global spread of the bagel means that the two can sometimes taste horribly similar nowadays.

How Jewish is the bagel? According to Balinska, the scope of whose research is impressive, a bagel lookalike and tastealike called the tarallo has been popular in Puglia, in the heel of Italy, since early medieval times. Its chief port, Bari, was a centre of Jewish learning as far back as the ninth century. That's not conclusive, of course; what is certain is that another prototype bagel, the obwarzanek, is recorded in Poland in 1394 being made especially for Queen Jadwiga to eat during Lent. Balinska says the obwarzanek arrived in Krakow from Germany along with Jewish craftsmen and traders, and the name bagel derives from the Yiddish beigen, to bend.

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.