Bialy vs. Bagel

So how was it that bagels gained mainstream acceptance and bialys didn’t? I think of it this way: that where bialys are concerned, you come to the bread. With bagels, the bread comes to you. Which is to say that the bagel is a much more convenient and approachable bread than the bialy. It comes in a range of flavors for one thing, which means it’s adaptable to a wide variety of tastes. Second and probably more importantly, it splits, and that makes it a perfect base for that oh-so-American of meal formats: the sandwich. Its applications are virtually unlimited.

The bialy resists mainstreaming in part because it comes in pretty much just one flavor: onion. Or garlic. Either way you wouldn’t want a pile of them in a basket in the center of a your meeting room table. Not unless you planned to meet with the windows open. Sure, I can imagine them filled with other things like cheese or potato, but then there’s still the splitting issue. You can’t turn it into a sandwich. As I mentioned before a bialy is sort of like a savory Danish. As the kids like to say today: it is what it is.

The bialy also has other limiting factors, like the fact that it stales quickly. Small airy rolls stay fresh for about eight hours, tops. Bagels, due to the density of their crumb, are edible the next day, and probably toast-able even on day three provided you didn’t leave them sitting out on the kitchen counter all night.

So yep, when it comes to adapting to the modern on-the-go bread user, advantage: bagel. Even though, at least in my humble opinion, a fresh bialy beats it my a mile in both flavor and texture.

3 thoughts on “Bialy vs. Bagel”

  1. Very true. But I still have difficulty with the whole sandwich thing. Where I come from, bagels are decidedly not for sandwiches. They’re for slicing in half, spreading with cream cheese, lox, whatever, and then eating each half separately. I cannot stress this emphatically enough. This whole business of making a sandwich out of a bagel still leaves me flabbergasted. Then people say, “take the insides out.” They eviscerate the poor bagel. And the things people put in those sandwiches — you shouldn’t know from it.

    In any case, I have vague (very vague) memories of a place in the Village called The Hip Bagel. Anything you wanted, on a bagel. Cool place, but still, that’s no way to treat a bagel. But I found this neat article about it. Enjoy. Looks like the owner of the Hip Bagel went very far indeed. I wonder if he makes bagel sandwiches in his other restaurants these days.

    1. Oh I’m not claiming that the sandwich is the proper way to eat a bagel, Chana. Just that the bagel is far more open to, er…creative interpretation…than the bialy. I wouldn’t call the bagel a complete blank slate, but just look at what’s been done to it over the past 30 years or so: sandwiches, chips, minis, not to mention about a zillion flavors both sweet and savory. I’m not saying it’s right, just possible. Mrs. Pastry, a long time New Yorker, shares your horror of bagel sandwiches.

      – Joe

  2. Is the Bialy such a closed format (despite its open, topping filled indent)? I mean, why couldn’t you put whatever you want in there and bake it like a nice hot sandwich? Oh, there is that dirty word again.

    But seriously, I have seen that all over Europe and in Asian bakeries some form of bread dough with a meat and/or cheese baked on it or into it.

    In other unnecessary (but altogether interesting) commentary, have you previously endeavored the phyllo laden road towards Greek/Turkish/Balkan pita/pie/not sure what everyone calls it. I have been to Bosnia a few times and I love what they call zeljanica, krompirusa, and sirnica (also known as spanokopita in Greece). I made up my own recipe to mimic the krompiruca (potato and onion filled) if you want to venture in that direction. And no visit to Sarajevo is complete without some WWI history…or some Austro-Hungarian history, or some Ottoman history…heck, even early church history!

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