Sunday, February 19, 2006

Bialy


Among the many benefits of being married to E is that her mom lives in close proximity to bialys. This weekend she was visiting and without even asking, we got a dozen of these treats from New York Bagel and Bialy in Niles, Illinois. They come with various toppings (poppy seeds are popular) but I prefer the kind with onions. The origin of the bialy is in Bialystok, Poland, where apparently, sadly, they are no longer made.

One of the mysteries of the bialy is that, unlike the bagel, it is hard to find. One rarely sees them today outside of New York City and even in New York City they're not exactly ubiquitous. While I was growing up the only time we ever had bialys was when visiting my grandparents in Brooklyn and Queens. I missed them during the years between the time when my family stopped making regular trips to New York and when I started spending time around Niles, Illinois. In the interim, a delicatessen opened on State Street in Madison called Bialy Brown's, eager to cash in on the large population of Jewish students at the nearby University of Wisconsin. I once tasted a bialy from Bialy Brown's and it was basically a dinner roll with some onions on top. In other words, an atrocity.

There are several differences between bagels and bialys. Bagels are boiled before being baked and bialys are not. This means that bialys don't have that shiny, chewy bagel crust. In contrast to bagels, bialys are crisp on the outside. While bagels have holes, which maximizes their surface area and thus their chewy crustiness, bialys have indentations which, ideally, are filled with onions. Bagels should ideally be eaten fresh, not toasted, but bialys are just as good toasted as fresh. (Anyone who toasts a good fresh bagel just doesn't understand.) When you slice a bialy you get one half with a hole and one half without. I always eat the half with the hole first because I save the best--the oniony part--for last.

Links:

History of Bialys, with a recipe.

Review of Mimi Sheraton's The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World.

10 Comments:

Anonymous lindy said...

Jealousy. No bialys in Pgh either. After I read the Mimi Sheraton book, I made them once. They were not as good as the real ones, but they were good. I used poppy seeds and onions both.

They would have been good enough for me to eat often, especially since there are no more real bagels in town. However, I am a lazy and experimental baker, so can never manage to produce any particular bread regularly enough to have a supply on hand.

Hear me Pittsburgh bakeries...I would walk miles, often, for real bialy. I'll bet I'm not alone.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Mmmm, bialy...I've only had them twice and that was at Kossar's Bialys. Hm dm. Tasty stuff! The first one I got looked like a breast though since it puffed out instead of indented. Weird.

TASTYYY.

4:29 PM  
Blogger habanero suz said...

The first morning I spent at my ex-MIL's house, she asked me -- from a room away -- if I wanted a bialy. I thought that I was still too sleepy and too far away to have heard her correctly, so I said "yes, I'd love a bagel". She asked again and I answered the same way, beginning to wonder if the walls were thicker than I thought. On the third try, I realized she was offering me something I'd never, ever heard of before. I wish I could say it was fabulous, because it probably was when it was fresh, but it was freezer-burned and rubbery-chewy. I hope someday to try a fresh bialy.

1:44 AM  
Blogger Barbara Fisher said...

I have never had one. Of course, I have only been to NYC twice--once when I was twelve and had no say in where I went or what I ate.

They sound fabulous, though.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

I spent a day in Bialystok, and everywhere I went I saw locals carrying hundreds of bagel-like things on strings, about a dozen to a string. Since I live in New York, I'm quite familiar with Bialys, to which these bore no resemblance. So I bought a string - twelve for about 50 cents. They weren't any good; stale and bland. Since neither I nor anyone I was with knew Polish, we weren't able to find out if there was any connection between whatever it was we bought and Bialys, although the sheer abundance of them (there was a large market in the middle of the city that sold very little besides them) suggests that, whatever they are, they were very popular locally.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Doug Barber said...

lindy, if they're nowhere to be found in the Squirrel Hill area of the 'burgh, they must indeed be an obscure treat. I've never encountered one, but if I did, I'd toast it and butter it profusely...would that be kosher?

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Rose's Lime said...

I used to live two blocks from Kosar's Hot Bialy. Worth a trip. If you're going out on Ludlow Street or elsewhere in loeeasida be sure to stop by... they start baking late Saturday night to make Sunday deliveries. You can pick up a dozen fresh bialys and have them piping hot out of the oven, as advertised, on your walk home and again toasted for breakfast.

I remember their bialy being filled with a mix of onion with a little garlic and mohn.

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Rose's Lime said...

Also, have yet to find a good Bialy in Boston. No, make that New England. Welcome any recommendations.

Kupel's in Brookline makes the best bagel to my mind. Though there are great bagel bakeries in Chelsea and Canton I'm told. But Kupel's Bialy is over stuffed and too doughy. Like they're trying too hard. What makes Kosar's so great is that they're made to be eaten in twos and threes.

7:24 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

"I am a lazy and experimental baker, so can never manage to produce any particular bread regularly enough to have a supply on hand." Me too.

Hey, comments newcomers! Nice to see you.

Rose's Lime, as far as I know, I have never had loisaida bialys, only the kind from the outer boroughs. This is yet another entry for my list of NYC eats. Unfortunately, I can't help you at all where New England is concerned. One is already blessed once to have access to decent bagels.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Palmer said...

I've never had a hard time finding bialys in Chicago. And good ones, at that. I usually go to a joint on Touhy Road - can't recall the name. I've never found a good one here in Madison, though.

6:57 AM  

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