It’s warm, it’s filling, and it’s found on the east coast. There are a lot of things that bagel shops have in common with the product they deliver, but just what goes into making an east coast bagel?
The bagel’s origin is practically known as Polish, and here in the United States, is acknowledged as a Jewish bread, but it’s name actually originates from Germany.
The history of the bagel is described in “The Bagel: the Surprising History of a Modest Bread” by it’s author Maria Balinska as originating from Germany and coming east to Poland from Germany as part of a migration flow during the 14th century, according to an article published by Ari Weinzweig in the Atlantic, “The Secret History of the Bagel” about the book.
At the time, pretzels were becoming popular with people from all German classes, and German immigrants brought the pretzels with them when they were brought to help build the economy.
“In Poland, that theory goes, the German breads morphed into a round roll with a hole in the middle that came to be known in Poland as an obwarzanek.” explains Weinzweig. “The same time Germans were making their way to Poland, so too were a good number of Jews. In that era it was quite common in Poland for Jews to be prohibited from baking bread. This stemmed from the commonly held belief that Jews, viewed as enemies of the Church, should be denied any bread at all because of the holy Christian connection between bread, Jesus, and the sacrament.”
During the Polish “Nobles’ Democracy,” Poland was known for its tolerance, acceptance, education, and understanding, while conflict and intolerance prevailed elsewhere.
“This mindset created the environment where Jews were first allowed the opportunity to bake, and then sell, bread — of which bagels were an integral part.” said Weinzweig.
According to Balinska, “This was a radical step, so radical that (in reaction) in 1267 a group of Polish bishops forbade Christians to buy any foodstuffs from Jews, darkly hinting that they contained poison for the unsuspecting gentile.”
Eventually they settled on allowing Jews to work with boiled bread, and thus the bagel was born.
Another theory Balinska explored dates the first bagels to the late 17th century in Austria.
According to Weinzweig, the theory goes that “bagels were invented in 1683 by a Viennese baker trying to pay tribute to the King of Poland. Given that the king was famous for his love of horses, the baker decided to shape his dough into a circle that looked like a stirrup — or beugel in German.”
Regardless of the bagel’s true origin, three shop owners from Mount Olive are here to tell you what parts of the bagel making process are crucial for success. After all, they’ve had more than 5 centuries since the bagel’s debut to perfect the craft.
John & Maria-Elena Kalavriziotis have run Mt. Olive Bagels, off Rt. 46 in Budd Lake, for the past 4 years.
“Mt. Olive is an ideal location for a bagel shop, not only are we located on a busy highway in town,” said Kalavriziotis, “but we are surrounded by residents who support the local businesses and are enthusiastic over a great bagel.”
Eyad and Lopana Muheisen have run the shop next door, Budd Lake Bagel & Deli, for the past 16 years.
“Mount Olive is a great location for a bagel shop because it is family based community filled with gatherings. It is also a great shop to stop by and eat when running on the go!” said Muheisen.
Henry Delgado has run Flanders Bagels, off 206 in Flanders, for the past 4 years.
“Flanders Bagels has been around for a very long time, and the town was very welcoming when we decided re-open it.” said Delgado. “We have been very well received by the community and we feel very fortunate.”
We also reached out to Saby Mohy from Bagels Abroad, but did not get a response.
The three shop owners had a lot of ideas about the most important part of bagel-making.
According to Delgado, it’s all about “using the best ingredients and kettle boiling the old fashioned way.”
Kettle boiling, otherwise known as “the old fashioned way” is defined by an NPR article as boiling chilled dough rings in a solution of water and malt barley for anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, locking the liquid inside and expanding the interior, producing a chewy texture which many people associate with a New York bagel.
The Youtube Channel “Reactions”, as cited by NPR, described kettle boiling as “like flash-frying a steak before grilling it to seal in the juices.”
Kalavriziotis also said the ingredients and kettle boiling are key to making bagels great.
“Variations come down to simple details such as the ingredients used, as well as the type of water.” Kalavriziotis said. “Through popular opinion, the best types of bagels are those which compare to the “old fashioned way”, which are kettle boiled in order to make a bagel that is crunchy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside.”
The water used also plays an important factor. The “Reactions” video explains that New York Water actually comes from the Catskills, located nearly 130 miles away, and is some of the softest water in the country. According to a map on homewater101.com, most of New Jersey’s water is rated as slightly to moderately hard, and Mt. Olive is situated in a slightly hard zone. So while New Jersey’s water isn’t as soft as New York’s, it can still compare.
“Pizza and bagel businesses have always said that their secret to a great product was in the water.” said Delgado. “Our bagels are great! Is it a coincidence?”
To Kalavriziotis, it’s not. “The water plays a large role in the overall process of creating an excellent bagel. Such a small factor can alter the quality of how a bagel can taste and feel.”
Muheisen agreed. “A huge contribute to our products would be the well water since it plays a huge role in making our delicious bagels. A big difference in bagels from New Jersey and New York is the different water used from town to town.”
Delgado also noted differences between New Jersey and New York bagels.
“A true New Jersey style bagel is a little bit bigger and a little bit softer than a New York style bagel,” said Delgado.
Kalavriziotis also noticed differences between the two.
“A New Jersey and New York bagel are very similar, yet different through numerous variations.” said Kalavriziotis. “Making bagels comes with great patience and experience, this comes down to time-tested recipes, the mere quality of the ingredients, and hard work behind the hand rolled bagel.”
Muheisen also noted that hand-rolling is the key to making a great bagel. “The most important step is hand rolling each one,” said Muheisen. “We have a family based business filled with our love and passion for our fresh and hand rolled bagels.”
Delgado explained that the preference for New York versus New Jersey bagels can even differ between New Jersey towns.
“In Flanders, New Jersey style is what our customers love.” said Delgado. “Our other stores in Chester and Morris Plains serve up a crunchy on the outside chewy on the inside New York style beauties.”
Kalavriziotis also noticed that preferences vary.
“When comparing bagels in our location to the rest of the country, it simply depends on one’s personal preference,” said Kalavriziotis. “As far as we are concerned, those in other areas cannot compare to the quality that you find in the Northeast.”
A 2014 article by the Jersey Journal points to two New Jersey-born food critics who have their own criteria for determining the quality of a bagel. Joe Francisco and his friend Chris Perez had rated 50 bagel shops before the article was written and planned on rating at least a hundred more.
“We look for things like seed density – seeds per inch – crunchiness, doughiness,” Perez said. “Is it hand-rolled or machine-rolled?”
“The look and feel of the place is also important,” Francisco said. “Sometimes a bagel shop will look nice and shiny, but those are the ones to watch out for, ’cause most of time, a good bagel shop should look a little dingy.”
But, they said, ultimately shops are evaluated by if they would go back.
One great way that these shops get their customers coming back is through their connection to the community.
“We are very involved with the community.” said Muheisen. “Donations are given to local schools, clubs and churches, etc.”
Kalavriziotis also gives back to the community “in a variety of ways through event donations, school sponsorships, etc.”
Delgado also likes to engage with the local community through sponsorships and events.
“We enjoy our sponsorship of sports teams, robotics teams, Mt Olive Police golf outing, amongst others.” said Delgado.
All of the shop owners take pride in their community involvement.
“We simply pay attention to our business and our customers and strive to offer a fantastic product and great service,” said Delgado.
Delgado is making changes to engage with the Flanders community.
“In the near future look for us to tap into the talents of our in-house chef, who has been with is for over 7 years.” said Delgado. “[We are] adding evening hours and family style take out dinners that will even include low calorie and carb conscience options.”
Kalavriziotis’ approach to community focused on the environment inside the store and quality of product.
“The food we provide to our customers is a quality product, one in which can be offered through a delivery service or through catering, which is available for any occasion,” said Kalavriziotis. “We pride ourselves as not just a bagel shop but as a comfortable, friendly place our customers can come to sit, eat and chat amongst their neighbors and friends within our town.”
Consistent with this trend, Muheisen expressed that there is more to running a bagel shop than simply making a great bagel.
“It is our pleasure to be open and to serve our customers who we consider as family. It is truly our livelihood!” said Muheisen. “The people in our community is what makes our business so special. We have seen kids enter elementary school come back as college graduates and that’s what make us feel like a family.”