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Gifted Gourmet

Do you have to be Jewish to make a great bagel?

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article from the NY Sun

Like many other commodities, the bagel, first a Jewish concept and now an indispensable New York dietary mainstay, is providing other ethnic groups with a way to pay the bills and support a family.

"This is a good business for Koreans because they are newer immigrants," Mr. Chang, whose store also sells challah and bialys, said. "There are not as many Jewish people who have small businesses like this anymore, because they have been in this country longer."Like the other Mr. Kim, he is now a bagel connoisseur in his own right, taste testing every morning to ensure that the bagels are not too salty or too bland, and serving them with lox and spreads.

Woo Kim said he buys a bagel every time he goes into Manhattan to see what the competition is up to. For the most part, he said, they are more "like a kaiser roll" with only a slit for a center hole. Too big, he said.

Is your neighborhood bagel baker from another part of the world? :rolleyes:

We are, after all is said and done, quite a melting pot ...

So, does one have to be Jewish to make a great bagel? How do you feel about this?

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No, the same way that one doesn't have to be Italian to make a great pizza (e.g. Franny's) or French to make great bread. It is all about the ingredients and the technique.

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I've actually had some of the worst bagels from Jewish establishments recently. There's a Kosher bagel joint in Teaneck that I went to a few months ago upon recommendation from someone that is run by orthodox Jews, the bagels there were doughy and obese. Not unlike myself, but not the qualities that I seek in a bagel.

My local Bagel place is owned by Koreans and staffed by Guatemalans and Mexicans, and I like their bagels just fine.

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I've actually had some of the worst bagels from Jewish establishments recently. There's a Kosher bagel joint in Teaneck that I went to a few months ago upon recommendation from someone that is run by orthodox Jews, the bagels there were doughy and obese. Not unlike myself, but not the qualities that I seek in a bagel.

My local Bagel place is owned by Koreans and staffed by Guatemalans and Mexicans, and I like their bagels just fine.

:laugh::laugh::laugh:

The bagel was actually created in Poland, so I would have guessed that Eastern European stock would make for a good bagel.

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What exactly are the qualities of a good bagel then? I have to say I always loved the overly huge ones, as you could toast them enough to give a nice crispy crunch, but still leave lots of doughy chewy goodness on the inside. If the bagel is too small the crunch overwhelms the chewy doughy factor.

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I think, when it comes to the back-breaking labor required in the commercial baking business as well as many other food businesses, it doesn't really matter what kind of immigrant you are but it does help to be a poor, hungry, ambitious immigrant. It's no surprise to me that the Jewish food businesses of old are now often run by Latin or Asian immigrants. You go to Katz's deli and half the guys behind the counter speak Spanish. The guy who runs Absolute Bagels is, I think, Thai. Speaking for myself as a downwardly mobile white lazy bastard, there's not a chance in hell I'd ever work those hours schlepping sacks of flour and slicing meat to order for annoying and unappreciative customers at a profit of one cent per bagel. And you can be sure the kids of those Latin and Asian dudes who are now serving Jewish foods are at Stuyvesant High School right now and will be going to Cornell on scholarships and will own my slothful middle class Jewish ass by 2030. My grandkids will probably be prep cooks in China.

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There's a Kosher bagel joint in Teaneck that I went to a few months ago upon recommendation from someone that is run by orthodox Jews, the bagels there were doughy and obese.

Once described by someone whom I can no longer recall as a "Winnebagel" monstrosity ... :laugh:

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I've taken to making my own, using Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe. Of course there is a theory that the Scots are one of the lost tribes of Israel.

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All I can say is that here in Vancouver NOBODY, Jewish or not, has managed to make a bagel like they do in Montreal, especailly those that are made at St. Viateur(sp?)

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I think, when it comes to the back-breaking labor required in the commercial baking business as well as many other food businesses, it doesn't really matter what kind of immigrant you are but it does help to be a poor, hungry, ambitious immigrant. It's no surprise to me that the Jewish food businesses of old are now often run by Latin or Asian immigrants. You go to Katz's deli and half the guys behind the counter speak Spanish. The guy who runs Absolute Bagels is, I think, Thai. Speaking for myself as a downwardly mobile white lazy bastard, there's not a chance in hell I'd ever work those hours schlepping sacks of flour and slicing meat to order for annoying and unappreciative customers at a profit of one cent per bagel. And you can be sure the kids of those Latin and Asian dudes who are now serving Jewish foods are at Stuyvesant High School right now and will be going to Cornell on scholarships and will own my slothful middle class Jewish ass by 2030. My grandkids will probably be prep cooks in China.

You're not far off the mark. My housekeeper's eldest son is now attending the University of Florida medical school (she and her husband were teachers in Peru - but they started a house cleaning service when they immigrated to the US).

As for bagels in Florida - a very good dependable local chain which makes its own is Too Jays. Many locations throughout most of the state - except for extreme north Florida <sigh> and the Panhandle. Not the best delis/bagels in the world (although probably the best in Ocala :wink: ) - but consistently very very good. Owners are - to the best of my knowledge - Jewish. It's a really good operation - and I recommend it to those of you who live in/travel to Florida. Robyn

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No, but judging from the bagels resulting from the recent acquisition of the Noah's Bagels in my neighborhood strip mall, you certainly shouldn't be Korean.

But in all seriousness, whatever the food you endeavor to make, you've got to eat it, lots of it. Be familiar with the best, worst and mediocre of it so you know what it's supposed to be like and what it's definitely NOT supposed to be like.

I think anyone of any culture can beautifully recreate food from another culture - you just gotta know the food inside out. Case in point: the Cambodian family running the Donut Star next to said Noah's Bagels makes a fabulous glazed buttermilk.

Oh, and their krullers ain't half bad, either.

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But in all seriousness, whatever the food you endeavor to make, you've got to eat it, lots of it.  Be familiar with the best, worst and mediocre of it so you know what it's supposed to be like and what it's definitely NOT supposed to be like. 

I think anyone of any culture can beautifully recreate food from another culture - you just gotta know the food inside out.  Case in point: the Cambodian family running the Donut Star next to said Noah's Bagels makes a fabulous glazed buttermilk.

Not to quibble (because in general, I agree with you and applaud your point), but do you think this Cambodian family goes out and eats boatloads of various glazed buttermilk donuts?

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"...but do you think this Cambodian family goes out and eats boatloads of various glazed buttermilk donuts?"

I don't believe you can create a consistently good product by sheer luck, merely following a recipe, or even just following the instructions on the box of instant batter. I've had many a ruined Duncan Hines yellow cake made by people who "just followed the directions".

So, not sure about the boatloads, but I'm inclined to think they've made and eaten enough donuts to know what works and what doesn't.

*Edited to fix quote.

*Re-edit. F-it - I can't figure out how to quote.


Edited by bottomlesspit (log)

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I could swear I read some story about some Cambodians and how they're rocking the donut world. But I digress.

I had read about the Thai owned bagel shops like absolute bagel but confess that Korean owned bagel shops are new to me. i'd be happy to try them. But I don't know that I've had a great bagel to test against them. I'd love to hear some recs on this thread.

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But I don't know that I've had a great bagel to test against them.  I'd love to hear some recs on this thread.

Depends upon your location and each baker will be different in their concept of bagel perfection ... :hmmm: but my original supposition was that anyone can produce a decent bagel irrespective of ethnic background ... customer recidivism is the deciding factor ultimately ... :laugh:

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One of the better bagel shops near Seattle (Mikie's in Redmond) is run by... Koreans is my guess, though I'm not sure. The bagel place in Pike Place market (mediocre) is also run by asians. Then again, the Thai restaurant where I often get lunch has a partially hispanic staff.

Noahs continues its slow slide down hill... staffed by teenagers and the like.

(And winegeek, both Solly's and Siegel's make good bagels. Maybe not quite as good as Montreal, but both are far better than anything you can get in Seattle).

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H&H Bagels on Manhattan's UWS, which has a legion of fans, is owned by Puerto Ricans. Now, I find their bagel a too kvatchy for my tastes, but some think their bagels are the best in NY.

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Now, I find their bagel a too kvatchy for my tastes, but some think their bagels are the best in NY.

Can't find the meaning of kvatchy anywhere ... :blink:

Did you mean kvetchy? :rolleyes:

Google Gourmet

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Bagel Supreme on Park Ave in Rutherford NJ, where I purchased my bagels from '99 until '03, is owned and staffed by Colombians. I happen prefer their bagels to H&H but I haven't tried Ess-A-Bagel and can't make the other obvious comparison. When they expanded their space to being offering a light lunch menu they also added some outstanding empanadas to the menu, replete with homemade hot sauce for those who request it.

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Now, I find their bagel a too kvatchy for my tastes, but some think their bagels are the best in NY.

Can't find the meaning of kvatchy anywhere ... :blink:

Did you mean kvetchy? :rolleyes:

Google Gourmet

I'm not really sure what the definition of kvatchy is, but the family usage in relation to H&H bagels would imply doughy.

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I always understood kvatch (properly spelled kvacs?) as the Hungarian version of kitsch.

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What exactly are the qualities of a good bagel then?  I have to say I always loved the overly huge ones, as you could toast them enough to give a nice crispy crunch, but still leave lots of doughy chewy goodness on the inside.  If the bagel is too small the crunch overwhelms the chewy doughy factor.

The exact opposite for me, in some ways. The bagels I'm having increasing trouble recalling from my childhood were smaller and firmer than "modern" bagels. Usually hand-made and boiled. Any crunchiness present though was due to staleness, not intent. Basically, the old creed was, when you bite a good bagel, it has to bite back. You have to need to work your with teeth a bit. They were chewy by virtue of being made less out of air than "modern" oversized bagels.

There are probably a few older topics from years back where we hashed this to death, but I don't think the ethnic angle has ever been part of those discussions. My reaction, like Jason, is that even Jews are mostly doing it wrong these days, so the best left might as well be Korean or Italian or from whomever.

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I came upon this and found it rather intriguing on the various attitudes toward finding decent bagels in San Francisco:

interesting bagel chat ...

we hit just about every bagel shop in town. Katz', Levy's, Manhattan, the Bagelry, House of Bagels, Posh Bagels. We're pleased to find many of these places use the authentic boil method. But even so, something's still not right. Three sad conclusions emerged:

1) New York bagels are better.

2) Nobody knows why.

3) It might be the water.

The most beguiling, of course, being the thing with the water. Is this a hard versus soft thing? Are Californians boiling their bagels in purified spring water? Hell, maybe it's even more complicated than that. One self-proclaimed bagel expert attributed it to a certain balance of atmospheric conditions, including humidity, dew point, and barometric pressure.

Maybe the reasons have less to do with ethnicity than the original supposition and maybe more to do with the water? ... :rolleyes:

You might want to scroll down to enjoy Ten ways to identify a good bagel shop

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