People seem to be forever debating the origin of the bagel, but the fact is, nobody really knows it. The earliest printed reference to the bagel comes from a public edict issued in Krakow, Poland in the year 1610. It decrees that all women, upon giving birth to a child, are to be given a gift of bagels (I wonder…could it still be in effect?). However that’s just one piece of paper that happens to mention the bagel at one particular point in history. Obviously bagels were well-established breads at that time, at least in Krakow.
Some food historians theorize that the bagel originated in Jewish communities in South Germany well before 1610, which is possible, yet there’s no actual documentation for that. Other historians point out the bagel’s close resemblance to the pretzel, which could in theory mean that it’s a product of early Christian, possibly Roman, invention. It’s well known that the Romans were fond of boiling their dinner rolls before they baked them, which lends some credence to the idea. But in truth, the bagel is a bread of mystery.
Even the name is controversial. On one side you have the German theory, which says that “bagel” comes from the German verb “beigen” which means “to bend”. On the other side are those who claim that the word comes from the Yiddish “beygel” which means a ring or bracelet. Now, I’m not a linguist, but aren’t those two languages related? And if indeed they are, what’s the argument about?
There are a few food historians out there, Russian ones, who claim the bagel was a Russian invention. However I have to interject here that I once spent some time in Russia in college. The various state-sanctioned tours I took brought me to the homes of the Russian inventors of the telephone, baseball, break dancing and Kung Fu. So, let’s just say they have a credibility problem in my eyes.
The important thing is that the bagel is here now. Jewish, German, Roman, early Christian or Russian, I bet they all taste equally good with lox.