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.
History of Bialys, with a recipe.
Review of Mimi Sheraton's The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World.