In Praise of the Bialy

by Bob Schwartz

Time for a little geo-chauvinism, at least as it concerns a particular food.

Living and travelling around the country and the world, you experience the delightful variety of foods that have been cultivated in all those different places. Some have spread nationally and globally, others have remained relatively local.

Bagels seem to be almost everywhere now, though the versions served are like the variety of things called pizza: some are special, some are seriously questionable. But growing up in New York, we ate the bagel’s eccentric sibling, a breakfast roll known as a bialy.

The bialy not only didn’t evangelize the world; the number of bialy bakeries in New York is actually shrinking. To understand what you and much of the world are missing, this description by Bell Bialys in Brooklyn:

Named after Bialystock, Poland, which was made famous through the musical Fiddler on the Roof, a bialy combines the flavors of an English muffin and a bagel. This flat, round baked product is low in calories, fat and cholesterol, with no sugar or oil added. The texture of the top and the bottom of a bialy are distinctively different. The top is light and crunchy while the bottom is heavier and chewy.

The creation of a quality bialy takes great skill and consistency. Following over 50 years of tradition, the Bell Bialy is still “pulled” by hand with the middle indented by thumb, and freshly grated onion mixture spooned into the indentation before the bialy is placed into the oven.

Of course writing about bialys is like dancing about art. We are all adults here, so look at it this way: if a bagel is like satisfying but routine sex, a bialy is like the act or position so simple yet sublime that you wonder why you’ve never tasted it before—and wonder when you can do it again.

Flour, water, onions.Unlike bagels that are more dressed up than Barbie, you would no sooner put cranberries in a bialy than you would put them in a communion wafer. It’s not that it would violate any dietary laws, but it would be culinarily trayf—an affront to God and your taste buds.

Find a bialy. Eat a bialy. They are sold by Bell and other bakeries to distributors and retailers in the Northeast, Florida, California and elsewhere. If you don’t find it, ask, even if you have to explain what a bialy is—no small task if you yourself have never had one. It is worth it. Breakfast will never be the same. Once you’ve had bialy, well…