The Bagel

The Surprising History of a Modest Bread

Maria Balinska

View Inside Price: $20.00


September 29, 2009
240 pages, 5 1/8 x 6 13/16
30 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300158205
Paper

Also Available in:
Cloth

A captivating cultural history of the bagel and its journey through the centuries

If smoked salmon and cream cheese bring only one thing to mind, you can count yourself among the world’s millions of bagel mavens. But few people are aware of the bagel’s provenance, let alone its adventuresome history. This charming book tells the remarkable story of the bagel’s journey from the tables of seventeenth-century Poland to the freezers of middle America today, a story of often surprising connections between a cheap market-day snack and centuries of Polish, Jewish, and American history.

Research in international archives and numerous personal interviews uncover the bagel’s links with the defeat of the Turks by Polish King Jan Sobieski in 1683, the Yiddish cultural revival of the late nineteenth century, and Jewish migration across the Atlantic to America. There the story moves from the bakeries of New York’s Lower East Side to the Bagel Bakers’ Local 388 Union of the 1960s, and the attentions of the mob. For all its modest size, the bagel has managed to bridge cultural gaps, rescue kings from obscurity, charge the emotions, and challenge received wisdom. Maria Balinska weaves together a rich, quirky, and evocative history of East European Jewry and the unassuming ring-shaped roll the world has taken to its heart.

Maria Balinska is editor of BBC Radio’s World Current Affairs department, and a journalist and documentary maker specializing in Eastern Europe and the United States. She lives in London.

"A fascinating and definitive account of the origins and importance in East European Jewish society of this boiled and baked ring of dough which has, surprisingly, become a staple item in the American diet."—Antony Polonsky 

"Don't just eat it, read it! Maria Balinska, in this illuminating and tasty book, shows that the humble bagel has a rich, complex, (and hotly contested) history." - Michael Berkowitz, University College London, author of The Jewish Self-Image

"Maria Balinska combines stories, history and hands-on experience with a style as brisk and toothsome as the crust of a freshly baked bagel and content as dense and flavourful as its skilfully handled dough." - Gillian Riley, author of The Oxford Companion to Italian Food

"Academics and dedicated foodies will appreciate Balinska's considerable research as well as her forays into the late 19th-century Jewish immigrant experience and American pop culture."—Publishers Weekly

"With a keen ear for telling anecdote, Balinska reports how the bagel entered urban history."—Booklist

One of the season's best books, Maisonneuve

"After years of research on Jewish food in America, I thought I had discovered all there was to know about the bagel and its journey. But then I read Maria Balinska's lively and well-researched book, The Bagel. Her book has filled in many of the questions I had about the bagel and raised new ones, too."—Joan Nathan, Slate

"A charming history of the roll with a hole, ranging across three centuries and two continents."—Glenn C. Altschuler, Forward

"A delightful book that will enchant and educate its readers."—Morton I. Teicher, National Jewish Post & Opinion

"A fascinating topic and one that Maria Balinska treats superbly. . . . I especially admire her scholarship, lively prose and tireless reportorial digging."—Joan Nathan, Moment

"The book, thought-provoking and fact-filled, is one that also uses the bagel as a way of viewing Polish-Jewish history."—Mervyn Rothstein, New York Times
 

"[An] intriguing book . . . which uses the food's vicissitudes to illuminate the past 400 years of Jewish history."—Scott Saul, Nextbook.org

"Journalist Maria Balinska is so smitten with her topic that she's as heartfelt describing the 1980s 'holey war' between Lender's and Sara Lee for dominance of the American frozen-bagel market as she is recounting the tragic fate of Jewish bakers in Nazi-occupied Poland. . . . [A] captivating story."—Barbara Spindel, Barnes & Noble Review

"[A] scrumptious little book. . . . The cover alone would whet any New Yorker's weekend appetite."— Sam Roberts, New York Times

"Balinska gives readers plenty to chew on. . . . Thoroughly entertaining.”—Dara Horn, Wall Street Journal



"[A] gem of culinary and social reportage." — Sandra M. Gilbert, The American Scholar

"A good addition to the field of culinary history. . . . This witty, readable, deeply researched book deserves to be read. . . . Recommended."—Choice

"Charming and scholarly."— Sheldon Kirshner, Canadian Jewish News

‘Balinska offers a kind of history of and love-letter to Jewish culture through a series of bread-based snapshots. She ranges stylishly from the lifting of the siege of Vienna … through … the Nazi ghettos … to the post-war New York bagel-baking unions and the gradual transformation of the bagel into an “all-American” food.’ - Steven Poole, Guardian

‘[The bagel has] found a fresh and lively chronicler in Maria Balinska, who seems as much at home with the bagel’s Polish and Jewish past as with its all-American present … Light and piquant, and yet at the same time seriously satisfying, The Bagel is anything but stodgy fare.’ - Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

"[A] succint and engaging account of the bagel through the ages." —Judy Bolton-Fasman, Jerusalem Report

"Balinska is admirably versed in the history of her subject. . . . Her book is a smart yet alsmo very accessible historical study." —Eyal Tamir, Gastronomica

"A quirky, evocative little book packed with information." —The Globe and Mail