A fascinating comment came in late yesterday from reader Ilona in Poland. Seeing the image in the below “Bialysfail” post she suddenly had an inkling of what I’m attempting to make here: cebularze, or Polish onion buns. I performed a quick image search and sure enough, in no time I had dozens of images of the type of thing I’m shooting for.
These buns hail from eastern Poland, which by no coincidence is where the city of Bialystok is located. In my cursory research I discovered that there are competing theories in Poland as to where in the east cebularze come from. Some say the city of Lublin, which is well to the south of Bialystok, however that’s not the really interesting detail. Both sources I came across claim that cebularze were primarily produced by Jewish bakers in large eastern cities in the decades before World War II.
Which would indicate that the things we call “bialys”, which were known in Bialystok by the generic name Bialystoker kuchen weren’t actually unique to that city. Indeed they seem to have been well known outside Bialystok, albeit by a different generic name. And while they may have disappeared from Bialystok after the World War II — perhaps even from all of Eastern Poland — they soon came back, and in a very large way. Just do a Google image search. Judging by the sheer number of results they’re as common as doughnuts in Eastern Poland (though based on the recipes I’ve seen so far the dough is now greatly enriched with butter and eggs).
So it seems the conventional (American) wisdom concerning the post-war history of bialys is actually incorrect. That’s good news on a lot of levels, because these are great little breads no matter what you call them.
On a side note, I find it interesting that the Polish word for “onion” is cebula. That’s almost identical to the Spanish word, cebolla. But Spanish is a Romance language and Polish is a Slavic language. I wonder how they both came to use the same term. Anyone care to enlighten me?
Thanks very much for your terrific insight, Ilona!