Updated: Nov 19, 2022
Here’s what is special about Montreal bagels, their distinct taste, cooking process, and history.
Having lived 15 years of my adult life in Montreal, I will admit that I sometimes miss the gastronomic scene and iconic foods available at all corners and at all times. Montreal is a multicultural city built to a great extent by immigrants that brought traditional cuisines to which the city owes its culinary signature. Jewish settlers have influenced the gastronomic identity, contributing with food like smoked meat and bagels. Traditional bagel bakeries were established in the early 20th century by Jewish communities from Poland. The famous Fairmount Bagels and St-Viateur Bagels bakeries were founded in the middle of the century and are still crafting traditional bagels today. New York City, about a 6-hour drive from Montreal, is also famous and renowned around the world for the bagel and delicatessen cult food of North America. I’ve only been to NYC twice and never tasted bagels there. Next time! But here’s some interesting facts I’ve learnt about both bagel styles.
Homemade bagels topped with sesame and poppy seeds © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021
New York-style and Montreal- style bagels are both wheel-shaped bread made by hand with similar dough ingredients, except in the Montreal variety, there are eggs. Both are poached in a boiling water bath before baking. However, the ingredients added in the water give each of them a different texture and flavour. New York ones are poached in New York city tap water (which apparently contains certain minerals attributed to a unique taste), malt syrup and salt. Montreal bagels are boiled in water sweetened with honey (yes, honey!), then baked in a wood-fired burning oven. The golden colour, dense and chewy texture, crunchy and shiny crust and sweet taste are given by this cooking process. From what I see in images of New York bagels, that shape looks larger, fluffier and rounded perfectly like big donuts. Montreal bagels are thinner and compact with a larger hole. They are imperfect most of the time but that’s the charm of a Montreal-style Bagel! And ho, let’s not forget the poppy and sesame seed last detail, which both city’s traditional bagel makers will generously top on.
Montreal's St-Viateur Bagels fresh from the shop © Carole Vallée 2021
In Montreal, some bagel bakeries are open until midnight, which offers the option for a late snack and eating it fresh out of the bag after an evening out! Montreal-made bagels can also be purchased in Québec's supermarkets. You can find different varieties, plain or topped with different sorts of seeds, with other ingredients like garlic, cheese, cinnamon, blueberries, etc. There are bagel cafés and most breakfast restaurants serve them on the menu, sliced with cream cheese spread, or as a sandwich. The classic one is served with cream cheese and smoked salmon, added with onions, tomatoes and sometimes capers, cucumbers or lettuce. Bagels can be lightly toasted when sliced for a sandwich if not fresh from the oven. They are delicious also with local smoked trout, eggs, jams, pickles, artisan cheese, salami, etc. Finely sliced and baked in the oven with oil and spice, you can make your own crispy bagel chips. There are no rules when it comes to eating bagels, you can have them for brekkie, brunch, lunch, snack or dinner... and of course, as a late snack the Montreal way!
Enjoying some bagels in many ways © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020-21
Now living in regional Australia, I’ve been struggling to find them locally and only bigger town's supermarkets supply some from commercial brands, and of course, that's not the same. A few years ago, we went to Melbourne and enjoyed a bagel sandwich at the first Australian wood-fire "bagelry" inspired by Montreal called Mile End Bagels. I was so excited! For years I was thinking that I should try making some at home, and only made my first experience during the pandemic lockdowns. I really don’t know why I waited that long… they are so good! I know now that it is not so difficult as made them many times using my backyard chooks eggs and local honey. My adapted recipe based on the classic Montreal-style method will be available in my first book, but find an intro about the recipe here.
Follow @bottleandbrushstudio for updates on upcoming book(s)... and a bagel recipe :)