Bagels are wheat elevated—a synergy of malt, yeast, flour, and water transmuted into gluttonous joy spread across the land. Try one once and down the bagel hole you go, hooked for life.
But who makes the best?
Predictably, New York has declared itself the authority on rolls with holes. The city does make great bagels. But there's just one thing.
They're not Montreal bagels.
Montreal Bagels Are Like Snowflakes
Montreal bagels are hand-crafted works of art, fashioned the way Montreal's Jewish community made them back in the day, generations ago when they first blessed the city with Ashkenazic culinary savoir-faire.
No one bagel looks like the other, from their shape to their color. That is the Montreal way.
Apparently, New York is catching up on that front though, increasingly eschewing machine-made puff pieces in favor of old-fashioned hand jobs. It's a start.
They Are Alchemy
Among the city's quintessential late-night foods, you can score Montreal bagels fresh out of the oven at 8 a.m. or 6 p.m. or 4 a.m. after a bender. Of course, New York has 24-hour joints of its own. Fine. But do they boast piping hot fresh handmade bagels baked in a wood oven right in front of you like a scene out of the '50s at any time of the day or night? Don't think so.
The smokey and ever-so-slightly sweet flavor seals the deal on your standard Montreal bagel styles, sprinkled with so many sesame or poppy seeds they leave a trail in their wake, be it in the bag, on your lap, on the floor...
Incidentally, that slightly sweet flavor? It's not from the eggs which partially differentiate Montreal bagels from New York's, but from honey sweetening the water they bathe in for three minutes before going into the wood-fired oven. And for some reason, there's little to no salt involved.
As for the textbook New Yorker who insists Montreal bagels are too sweet, we say to you, really? America puts sugar in everything and you're nitpicking over a teaspoon of honey?
Those same New Yorkers probably haven't tasted an all-dressed Montreal bagel. The umami is real, folks. Or the pumpernickel bagel. Or the onion one. Or the garlic. Or the caraway seed.
They Don't Need Spread
Montreal's bagel-makers don't devote feet of counter space to thirty different kinds of spread. It's because they don't need them. Cream cheese? That's for when you're eating all the mini cream cheese sandwich samples they set out on the counter, or when your Montreal bagel is a day old and you're toasting it, or when you're ordering the lox at Beautys.
And for select New Yorkers claiming Montreal bagels are hard as cement after five minutes out of the oven? Please. Whatever bagels you're going on about are either more than two days old and/or you don't know how to seal your bagel bag. Work on that. Besides, all you've got to do to soften an oldie is pop it in the toaster oven at 200°F for ten minutes. Problem solved.
Wood Ovens Reign Supreme
State-of-the-art revolving or rotating rack ovens do the job with New York bagels. They come out golden. They're cooked. They taste good. That's great and all, but it's not a wood oven, is it?
From the finest flatbread you've ever tasted to the best pizza in Naples, everyone knows flour tastes better baked in a wood oven. Montreal even has a restaurant that only serves food –not just bread– that's passed through one.
Any wonder locals eat Montreal bagels au naturel when they nab them fresh out of the oven at the bagel joint? You can't beat that smoky taste.
They've Been to Space
NASA mission specialist Greg Chamitoff loves Montreal bagels so much, he brought them to outer space.
It's not clear if the 18 Fairmount bagels headed to the International Space Station were vacuum-sealed or dry-packed for freshness but it is believed they didn't last the trip there on account of, you know, being ridiculously delicious and all.
Montreal Bagels Are... Bagels
A Montreal bagel is a bagel, densely chewy (but not too much) on the inside and almost caramelized and crispy on the outside. No crunch here though, just incredible texture. There's no way you could fool someone into thinking Montreal's roll with a hole is bread but unfortunately, the same can't be said about many New York bagels.
They Won't Kill You
The bloated New York bagel has anywhere from 300 to 800 calories. On the higher end of that scale, you could cut calories by swapping a single solitary bagel with a large piece of cake.
Meanwhile, your standard Montreal bagel, which is smaller, thinner, and molded with a much bigger hole than New York's, has 180 to 220 calories, a perfectly acceptable count for a healthy diet.
If you were to replace a morning Montreal bagel with, say, a New York Ess-a-Bagel at 490 calories, change nothing else in your diet and lifestyle other than that one daily bagel, you'll find yourself roughly 30 pounds heavier by this time next year. Grab an 800-calorie bagel instead and you'll have 63 extra pounds padding your frame in 12 months.
Some New Yorkers got the memo, opting to get their New York bagels scooped out before turning them into sandwiches to save on calories. For fun, and for science, a registered dietitian checked to see how many calories she was saving. With most of the doughy interior removed from her bagel, there were still 400 calories left. Even a shell of an Ess-a-Bagel has as many calories as TWO or more Montreal bagels.
So to sum this up, New York makes bread-like bagels so big they have more calories than hamburgers with cheese and bacon, then scoop out their insides, throwing out pounds of freshly baked bread daily to save less than the energy equivalent of a piece of cheese on a morning sandwich with enough calories to sustain a professional athlete about to train for the next six hours.