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The History of the New York Bagel

August 21, 2013

The History of the New York Bagel

The History of the New York Bagel

The bagel New York is known for is not originally from New York. In fact, so many stories exist, it’s hard to tell where the first bagel originated.


Egyptian hieroglyphics displayed in the Louvre in France show rolls with a hole in them in panels depicting Ancient Egyptians’ daily life. Rolls similar to the bagel have existed for centuries in Italy, China and the Middle East. The boiled version Americans have grown to love were most likely brought to New York by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.


The origin of the name “bagel” is also in dispute. Some say it derives from the Yiddish word “beigen,” meaning to bend. Others point to records that a family named Beigel had dominated Jewish baking in pre-Nazi Poland and made bagels among their other baked goods.


The traditional bagel is made from hand-rolled dough with a hole set in the middle. It’s boiled and then baked to give the bagel its distinct crispy outer crust and chewy texture. In the early decades of the 20th century, the bagel was very popular within New York’s Jewish community. Back then, the bagel was smaller and available only in plain or salt varieties.


Why the bagel became popular is also in question. One answer relates to the Sabbath—because the dough rests for 12 hours before baking, it could allow the Jewish bakers to rest during the time in which work is forbidden, without worrying about their bagel dough spoiling.


In the 1950s, Family Circle magazine published recipes using “bageles” and the comedy “Bagel and Yox” hit Broadway. With the invention and growing popularity of cream cheese, the bagel’s popularity grew and grew.


Automation eventually led us further away from the original, traditional dough and texture of the bagel. Many bagels today aren’t even boiled first. But, if you search, you can still get a hand-made bagel in some places, including at New York’s Second Avenue Deli. You can also find different snack-size versions of the bagel, like New York Style Bagel Crisps.