If you think there is only one kind of bagel, think again. The world of bagels stretches far beyond New York and Montreal; in fact, one of the first records of bagel-like breads dates back to 1593, hundreds of years before the United States was even a country. While varying in size, thickness, and texture, these “bagels,” though they have different names, are unmistakably siblings of the popular breakfast bread we Americans know and love. Here are 9 different ways bagels look around the world.
Though New York seems to have a monopoly on good bagels (people say it’s because of the city’s tap water), you can definitely find excellent bagels outside of New York and, as this list will prove, outside of America. Bagels not only have a wide reach around the world; they have even traveled to space. Astronaut Gregory Errol Chamitoff took a bag of Montreal-style bagels from his family’s bakery with him on his first mission. The versatility of bagels also makes them a perfect canvas for chefs, who have had infused them with squid ink and stuffed them with buratta.
Since bagels as we know them originated in Poland, we figured the best way to discover other bagels of the world was to start by researching different kinds of bread in Eastern Europe. Just like the Jewish communities with which they are typically associated, bagels experienced a diaspora — of a culinary sort. We found many bagels that, as they traveled east or west, evolved in composition and flavor to become more welcoming to regional cuisines. For example, Jerusalem bagels are conducive to breaking apart and dipping in za’atar, one of the most popular Middle Eastern condiments.
Some people might not be surprised to find there is such a thing as green tea bagels in Japan, but they might not expect to learn that “bagels” in China, called girde nan, are not just New York bagels infused with a locally popular flavor. Uyghur Muslims, whose culinary culture shows a heavy Central Asian influence, have been making them for over a century.
There are a lot of things about bagels you might not know, but let’s start by taking a closer look at the different bagels the world has to offer.
Canada (Montreal-Style Bagel)
Montreal-style bagels are smaller, denser, and, as a result of being boiled in water infused with honey, sweeter than your standard New York bagel. They are always baked in a wood-fired oven. Try them at Montreal’s famous St-Viateur, but don’t ask for them to be sliced and spread with cream cheese. That’s so New York. Try them plain and you won’t regret it.
China (Girde Nan)
Girde nan is a bagel-like bread eaten in the Xinjiang province of western China, whose most predominant demographic is Uyghur Muslims. The region looks so similar to Afghanistan that the film The Kite Runner was shot there. Naturally, the culinary influences are different than what we picture when we think of Chinese food. Similar in size to a New York bagel but baked in a tandoori oven, girdeh nan seems like it has a hole, but a thin membrane of dough holds the circle together. You don’t have to travel all the way west; try them at Nur Bostan Restaurant in Guangzhou, a halal eatery near that city’s main mosque.