When I think of bagels, I think of New York. In fact, if you're American, you might assume that bagels were invented in New York City; however, they actually originated in Krakow, Poland around the 16th century. As Polish Jews traveled to North America, two major varieties emerged: the New York-style bagel that Americans know, and the Montreal-style bagel popular in Canada.
The Montreal bagel is crunchier and sweeter than its American cousin. People here talk about it having three stages: Within the first 10 minutes out of the oven, the bagel is light and soft, almost airy. After that, it becomes chewy, a more substantive mouthful. Visit the bagel after 24 hours, and it's a hockey puck.*
This morning, I visited St. Viateur Bagel Shop, which has a reputation for being one of the best sources of crunchy baked goodness in the city. These guys know their stuff: they've been making bagels by hand since 1957, and they make literally 1000 dozen bagels every day.
When the dough is ready, a baker cuts lengths of it into strips, which he then hand-rolls into the round shape that we're all familiar with. In five minutes, he can shape 44 bagels. The rolled dough then goes into a vat of boiling, honey-sweetened water for another five minutes.
Afterward, the bagels are placed in a brick oven for 20-25 minutes. They're flipped over once during the baking process, since oven heat only comes from one direction.
After around a half hour total of shaping, boiling, and baking time, the dough transforms into wonderful, crisp-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside Montreal bagels. I devoured two in short succession. Johnny from the bagel shop informed me that there were three more things I had to do in order to get the full Montreal experience: eat poutine, visit a local bar, and eat smoked meat. More on the rest later!
St. Viateur Bagel Shop
263 Saint Viateur Ouest
Montreal, QC H2V 1Y1
* Hey, we're in Canada - hockey is so important here that the five-dollar bill features a hockey scene on the back, as well as short poem that reads, "The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places - the school, the church and the skating rink - but our real life was on the skating rink."