Bagels: Why Do We Eat Them? And What Makes a Good One?

January 27, 2023
Sophie Schwarz

Los Angeles, California, United States

Class of 2024

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Bagels originated in Poland, with the first historical example of them being in 1610. The word bagel is a derivative of the Yiddish word “beygal,” roughly translating to “ring.” For Polish people in the early 17th and 18th centuries, bagels became a staple food due to their basic ingredients and ability to vary in flavor based on the ingredients at hand. 

During America’s waves of immigration, beginning in the 1870s, Polish people arrived in New York City and brought the bagel industry with them. The bagel market grew in New York, mostly established by the Bagel Bakers Local 338. This group of bakers also helped establish the International Beigel Bakers Union, to support bakery workers earning minimum wage in difficult working conditions. By 1915, Local 338 created contracts with 36 bakeries in New York City, ultimately beginning New York’s love and craving for bagels. 

Today, bagels vary in size, texture, and even in taste based on where they are baked, and the tactics used to bake them. 

A “good bagel” is based on one’s personal definition of what makes a good bagel. I asked some friends what their go-to bagel is, and got a variety of responses! My friend Leah says that the best bagel order is an “egg bagel toasted, with chive cream cheese." Ella enjoys a cinnamon raisin bagel with “pounds of cream cheese." Lexi thinks that a toasted egg bagel with half melted cheddar cheese and half butter is the best. Lelah and Hayley enjoy a more classic bagel- an everything toasted with cream cheese and tomatoes. Sammy (shoutout regional N’siah!) loves Pop’s Bagels, a bagel shop located in LA, and enjoys hers with lox, cream cheese, and eggs. Personally, I enjoy a bagel with a crunchy exterior, and a chewy, toasted interior topped with light cream cheese, lox (Hank’s house lox is the best!), and cucumbers. 

Bagels are also widely associated with Jewish people and culture- predominantly because they have been eaten by Jewish people throughout history. They became a convenient food for Jewish immigrants arriving in America’s rising industrial cities in the 1900s, and remained one of the focal foods eaten today. 

Living in Los Angeles, I struggle to find good bagels- and anxiously await my trips to New York for the best ones. But, I have found a few LA bagel shops with delicious bagels- Hank’s (Studio City), Pop’s Bagels (Santa Monica), and Yeastie Boys (Silverlake). 

So, next time you crave a bagel, remember that Jewish history plays a role in them- and that there are so many varieties, you’re bound to find one you enjoy!

Sophie Schwarz is an BBG from D’vash BBG #956 in PWR and when she’s not reading or writing, she is baking!

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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