Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough
Bagel-icious salmon and spread a delight
Besides perhaps pizza, no food is more beloved in New York than the bagel.
The boiled-and-baked rings of dough make for the perfect portable breakfast, with a huge variety of spreads (or ‘‘schmears’’, to use the local lingo) and toppings to choose from.
But I am all about the classics, so on a recent trip to New York, I couldn’t leave without scouting out the city’s best salmon and cream cheese bagel.
The bagel, which originated in Poland, arrived in New York City with Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the late 19th century.
Many settled on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and, by 1900, the neighbourhood was packed with bakeries.
A union specifically for bagel bakers was even formed, to safeguard their methods.
It was in New York that the classic combination of cream cheese and salmon on a bagel was born.
According to Jewish food writer and historian Gil Marks, it emerged as an alternative to eggs benedict, which had become popular in the 1930s.
The problem with the brunch dish was it contained pork, and mixed dairy and meat, which is against Jewish dietary laws.
But a sliced bagel in place of English muffins, cream cheese in place of hollandaise sauce, and lox (cured salmon) in place of ham, proved to be an ideal kosher version.
To this day, it’s considered a match made in heaven.
TRY IT OVERSEAS
While in New York, I visited Russ & Daughters, which has been based on the Lower East Side since 1914. The family business started as an ‘‘appetising store’’, a shop selling food that goes with bagels. Later, they decided they might as well offer the bagels, too.
After a century of having to stand in line to get your smoked fish and bagels, in 2014 a sitdown cafe was opened around the corner from the shop.
The all-day restaurant features plenty of nods to the original store, such as shelves stocked with caviar tins and jars of pickles.
I sat at the counter, where I was served by staff dressed in white coats – the same uniform as the shop workers who handslice the fish to order (apparently, it should be thin enough that you can read the newspaper through it).
Bagels and their trimmings come presented on boards, so you can make your own sandwich.
I went for The Classic, which came with smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, red onion and tomato. I requested my bagel toasted, which I have since learned is an embarrassing tourist move – bagels this fresh have no need for the toaster.
But I did redeem myself by washing it down with Russ & Daughters’ famous ‘‘egg cream’’, a beverage made with milk, chocolate syrup and seltzer water – a slightly fizzy chocolate milkshake.
TRY IT AT HOME
For the closest thing to a New York-style bagel, head to The Kosher Deli, on Greys Ave in central Auckland. Chef Sam Lewis churns out bagels that he describes as a ‘‘hybrid between a New York and Montreal style’’.
He makes them by hand and the result is an authentic, chewy bagel.
The original comes filled with whipped cream cheese, smoked salmon, and house-made pickles. You can get one instore, or order a bagel brunch box online.