St-Viateur Bagel - Montreal, Canada
It's generally accepted that New York is to bagels as San Francisco is to sourdough bread. But have you heard about Montreal's bagels?
This week, I had the bagels at the venerable St-Viateur in Montreal's Little Italy neighborhood and they were so much crustier, denser, softer, and sweeter than those from, say, NYC's H&H on the Upper East Side.
In fact, I didn't need to add anything to enjoy them--not butter, not cream cheese, not lox--they were good as is, even cold, two hours after they were baked. Since honey is used in the dough as well as the boiling water, they have a noticeable yet subtle sweetness to them. They actually reminded me of the sweet fried bread the Indonesians call bolang-baling and the Vietnamese call banh tieu, with a crumb that's somewhere between cake donut and your usual bagel.
And when I saw the shop in which they were produced, I realized I was witnessing history. This was the way the place looked when it opened in 1957. Sacks of flour are stacked behind the window. In one corner, a worker wrestled with a raw mountain of dough, tearing some off by the fistful, rolling them into cylinders, and then forming them into the classic hoop shapes in one fluid motion.
Another worker was tending to a deep, glowing oven, pulling out long paddles lined with bagels. He checked them with his fingers, then when he determined they were done, he chucked the whole thing over the side into a wooden trough where the hot bagels slid down in an avalanche to the cashier's counter.
I ate one. And another. Then I came to the sad realization that even if these bagels ever came to my neck of the woods, it would never displace the New York-style. As Americans, we are predisposed to thinking that bagels are a New York thing--an American thing.
Anthony Bourdain was very careful in the way he broached the subject:
"So the great debate: who has the better bagel, New York or Montreal? It's a completely ridiculous apple and oranges discussion.... I'm a New Yorker so you know where my allegiance lies. But I think it's unfair to both quite magnificent products to try to compare them."
But if you asked me: Montreal-style bagels are far superior in every way.
263 Rue Saint Viateur O
Montréal, QC H2V 1Y1, Canada
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