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How Montreal Became Famous For Bagels

A city divided by language and politics found common ground in its Jewish bakeries.
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In Montreal, bagels are a matter of identity. They’re the first stop on any food tour, mentioned in every guide book, and fought over, again and again, in local and international media: Which bakery’s got the best, St. Viateur or Fairmount? Compared to Montreal’s, are New York bagels really worth their salt? (I vouch for the slightly sweet, less chewy dough of Quebec.)

With such global attention, it’s easy to forget that bagels are an essentially Jewish food. In Montreal, where Jews make up just two percent of the population, the humble ring’s star status is even more remarkable. According to Olivier Bauer, an associate professor of theology at the Université de Montréal, the bagel’s ascent beyond its immigrant origins is a symbol of the city’s mixed cultural heritage. "They’re a hybridization of Jewish, Central European, and North American cuisines," Bauer, who recently presented research on the bagel’s place in Montreal history, says.