Montreal bagels get at the heart of civic pride in Quebec’s largest city. Like Montreal itself, these delicious treats are unique in the world, and locals identify not only with what flavour they prefer, but also which bake shops they frequent. Merely mentioning the word “bagel” can provoke an extreme reaction.
A quick tip to avoid conflict: don’t compare Montreal bagels to the New York version. The former is chewier than the latter, and is prepared differently. The process begins by kneading flour, malt and eggs (no yeast or salt here), forming a large ring out of the dough, and boiling it in honey water. They are then baked in a wood-fired brick oven on a long stick. The result is a bagel that is never perfectly circular or evenly browned. Compared to the New York version, Montreal bagels are thin, slightly crisp, and have a large hole. As a friend once explained, “It’s not a bun, it’s a bagel.”
Bagels are an integral part of the cuisine brought by Eastern European Jewish immigrants who settled in Quebec in the early 1900s. Isadore Shlafman is credited with opening the first Montreal bagel bakery in 1919 on St. Lawrence Boulevard. In 1949, Shlafman moved to Fairmount Street in Mile End, and the bakery was renamed The Original Fairmount Bagel Bakery.
Locals are fiercely loyal to their choice of Montreal bagel shop. The other mainstay is St. Viateur Bagels, which has been a favourite since 1957 when it was opened by Myer Lewkowicz. Both bakeries are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and at least 2500 dozen fresh Montreal bagels are sold daily just from these two establishments. St. Viateur Bagels has expanded to café locations, and even distribute to Trudeau International Airport, for those visitors bringing Montreal bagels home as an edible souvenir.
Traditional options are plain, sesame seed (order them “white”) or poppy seed (“black”), but now there’s a wide variety of options including spelt and cinnamon-raisin. And although it’s a common option for breakfast or lunch, Montrealers are happy to have bagels any time of the day, as long as they’re local.
Where to go to get a quintessential Montreal bagel: