Any list of the most quintessential New York foods typically comes down to two things: pizza and bagels. But there are a lot of places in the world with great pizza—maybe not in the sheer quantity and reliability of New York City—but at this point, pizza belongs to the world, not just New York. However, good bagels are just as ubiquitous in the city as good pizza, yet nearly impossible to find just about anywhere else. There are stories of Montreal’s bagel tradition and stray artisanal bagel makers in Los Angeles flying in New York water but in most of the rest of the world, what gets called a bagel is an object almost unrecognizable from what’s found at even the most ordinary New York deli. Bagels are truly the single quintessential New York food because unlike anything else, they’re the food that most belongs to the history and day to day culture of the city.

Early American bagel street vendor.

There is some mystery as to the origin of the modern bagel but the earliest most formal documentation was among Jewish bakers in Eastern Europe around 400-500 years ago. When Jewish immigrants from those communities began arriving in New York in huge numbers in the 1800s, the bagel came with them and found a new home in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The rise of industrialization in the city at the same time allowed small shops to use machinery to scale up the process of making bagels––mixing, kneading, boiling, and baking––to produce a cheap, fast, and satisfying snack for the city’s immigrants and workers.

Russ & Daughters opened in 1914 in LES.

Bagels maybe aren’t sexy, but they’re just simple, good, and reliable. And if there’s a reason they’re so much different in New York than elsewhere, it’s more than just the water. It’s the history of a Jewish American community that still exists in New York unlike anywhere else, a day to day lifestyle that still often necessitates a walking breakfast or lunch, and a city that still has space left for small mom-and-pop shops with the right mix of craft and machinery. Whether a plain with bacon-egg-and-cheese, or lox on an everything, or strawberry tofu spread on a rainbow bagel, they all belong to New York.

An Incomplete List of Bagel Spots We Like:
Apollo Bagels - Travelling across NYC
Barney Greengrass - Upper West Side
Ess-a-Bagel - Midtown
Frankels - Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Forest Hill Bagels - Forest Hill, Queens
Greenbergs - Bedstuy, Brooklyn
H&H Bagels - Upper East Side
Russ & Daughters - LES
Tompkins Square Bagels - Tompkins Square
Utopia Bags - Clearview, Queens

Canadian Honourable Mentions:
Gryfe's - Toronto
St-Viateur - Montreal
Fairmount Bagel - Montreal