First of all, there is no argument. New York has the best bagels. It’s a fact, jack. They just taste better. And, it's a whole experience. Bagels are way of life for us Long Islanders. What’s your go to Sunday morning breakfast*? Nine times out of ten, the average Long Islander will say it’s a bagel. (That’s our unscientific assessment.)
So what makes the Long Island bagel superior to any other? Let’s dig into the issue a bit to find out.
If you really want to get the full scope of bagel history, check out Maria Balinska’s book on the subject, “The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread.” Yes, there is a non-fiction book about bagels. In short, bagels or something like them have been known in Europe since the 1600s (and most likely before that.) But the bagels we know and love were 19th-century imports from Eastern European Jews who brought a bakery item that was then known in Yiddish as a beigel. In the early 20th century that was Americanized to the bagel (cue inspirational choral music.)
It’s Not the Water
Everyone thinks the water is the difference. The mineral content (low amounts of calcium and magnesium) makes our water softer than other places. This has been touted as a contributing factor to a superior bagel. To the point where Florida bagel shops imported New York water or invented ways to mimic the water in New York trying to capture that distinct flavor. But, science says otherwise. Water quality has little to do with why our bagels are better. It’s just chemistry!
Trust the (Bagel Making) Process
How bagels are made seems to be the key difference. Bagelmakers elsewhere don’t do things the old-fashioned way. Here, the dough is shaped by hand then left to sit in a refrigerator to slow down the yeast process as it rises, leading to more time for the taste to infuse into the bagel. Then the legit way to make a bagel is to boil it.
Boiling Makes Better Bagels
Culinary Institute of America Chef Richard Coppedge told NPR that the boiling process essentially sets the starch and locks the liquid inside. It also thickens the surface leading to a chewier bagel with the freshness sealed inside the glossy crust. Then the bagels are baked in a hot oven.
This is the way the European immigrants to New York City made their bagels back at the turn of the century, the one that spread out to Long Island during the post-war years.
The alternative to boiling is to steam them in the oven instead, leading to a totally different texture and taste. This saves time in the bagel-making process but arguably leads to an inferior bagel. It’s why mass-produced bagels are not even close to your local bagel shop’s offering.
A Cut Above the Rest
No matter how you slice it, New York City and Long Island bagels are just better than any others. Maybe water has a little to do with it or maybe it’s an old-fashioned recipe imported from Europe and perfected in America that makes these bagels the best. We just know one thing. You NEVER slice a bagel like this! I mean, what is this guy thinking?
*Editor's note: Bagels, especially Long Island bagels, are not just good for Sundays or breakfast. They're great anytime for any meal, especially road trips, brunch, midnight snacks, egg sandwiches, and right out of the bag unsliced.