Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Bagel
Of all bagel combinations, the smoked salmon, cream cheese & capers is by far my favorite.
In fact , When I think of bagels, I can’t imagine anything else.
New York…where the bagel met & married lox, cream cheese & capers
“As in so many modern unions, both partners come to the marriage with plenty of baggage. The story of the New York bagel is no different.”
Lox, we learn, come to us via the Scandinavians, who mastered the art of preserving salmon in saltwater brine, but also via Native Americans, who smoked and dried the fish’s carcasses for food and currency. The capers come from Italy, while cream cheese has roots in Britain.
As for the bagel? This ring-shaped treat is “suspiciously similar” to a bread that Uigher merchants sold along the old silk route in China. And in Italy, a bagel-shaped bread called a taralli was sold as early as the late 14th century — “though it was reported to be both sweeter and harder.”
“The circular nature of ring breads inspired philosophizing: they symbolized life, death, yearning, good fortune, inclusiveness, solitude, union, the hole at the center of all existence,”
But is this the real & true story?
A bagel (Yiddish: בײגל beygl; Polish: bajgiel), also historically spelled beigel, is a bread product originating in the Jewish communities of Poland. It is traditionally shaped by hand into the form of a ring from yeasted wheat dough, roughly hand-sized, that is first boiled for a short time in water and then baked. The result is a dense, chewy, doughy interior with a browned and sometimes crisp exterior. Bagels are often topped with seeds baked on the outer crust, with the traditional ones being poppy and sesame seeds. Some may have salt sprinkled on their surface, and there are different dough types, such as whole-grain and rye. Bagels are eaten toasted or untoasted.
The first known mention of the Polish word bajgiel derived from the Yiddish word bagel in the “Community Regulations” of the city of Kraków in 1610, which stated that the food was given as a gift to women in childbirth.
But there is another possible explanation. In the 12th and 13th centuries, it was quite common for Jews to be banned by law from commercial baking. In 1264, Jews in Poland were allowed to freely buy and sell and touch bread like Christians, only to be taken away that right 3 years later. Jews were allowed to work with bread that was boiled, and so they created the bagel to comply with the ruling.
Much of the cuisine usually associated with New York stems in part from its large community of Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants. The world famous New York institution of the “Delicatessen,” commonly referred to as a “Deli,” was originally an institution of the city’s Jewry. Much of New York’s Jewish fare has become popular around the globe, especially bagels.
Bagels were brought to the United States by immigrant Polish Jews, with a thriving business developing in New York City controlled for decades by Bagel Bakers Local 338. They had contracts with nearly all bagel bakeries in and around the city for its workers, who prepared all their bagels by hand.
Around 1900, the “bagel brunch” became popular in New York City. The bagel brunch consists of a bagel topped with lox, cream cheese, capers, tomato, and red onion. This and similar combinations of toppings have remained associated with bagels into the 21st century in the US.
Lox or Smoked Salmon
Mind you, lox and smoked salmon are technically not the same. But for the sake of simplicity, in this paragraph they are treated as such.
The Jewish affinity for salted or smoked fish is based on a number of factors.
First, fish is considered pareve, and can be eaten in a dairy or meat meal. (Note: While fish and meat may be eaten in the same meal, they cannot be eaten together.
Second, unlike meat, which has many requirements for slaughtering and preparing it in a kosher fashion, you can buy a whole kosher fish from a non-Jewish store.
Third, smoking or salting the fish minimizes the need for refrigeration.
Before there was lox, there was herring. It was only once the Jews emigrated to the U.S., and salmon was relatively cheaper and easier to come by than herring, that lox became a favorite. So, despite the fact that the word “lox” comes from the Yiddish “laks” (“lachs” in German), as far as I know there is no known special Jewish connection to it prior to the early 1900s in the United States.
The lox and schmear likely originated in New York City around the time of the turn of the 20th century, when street vendors in the city sold salt-cured belly lox from pushcarts. A high amount of salt in the fish necessitated the addition of bread and cheese to reduce the lox’s saltiness. It was reported by U.S. newspapers in the early 1940s that bagels and lox were sold by delicatessens in New York City as a “Sunday morning treat”, and in the early 1950s, bagels and cream cheese combination were very popular in the United States, having permeated American culture
The Cream Cheese
The very unkosher American classic brunch food Eggs Benedict (two halves of an English muffin topped with ham or bacon, a poached egg and hollandaise sauce) became popular in New York City in the 1930s. Of course, kosher-keeping Jewish people couldn’t eat it. So they substituted lox slices for the ham, cream cheese for the hollandaise sauce, and bagels for the muffins. Thus, the Jews created a new Jewish-American classic, bagels with cream cheese and lox.
The combination of a bagel with cream cheese has been promoted to American consumers in the past by American food manufacturers and publishers. In the early 1950s, Kraft Foods launched an “aggressive advertising campaign” that depicted Philadelphia-brand cream cheese with bagels. In 1977, Better Homes and Family Circle magazines published a bagel and cream cheese recipe booklet that was distributed in the magazines and also placed in supermarket dairy cases.
Is there anyone out there who can tell me how capers landed on a salmon & cream cheese bagel?
Other than figuring it came with the Jewish delis, noone has written a plausible explanation. And that of course frustrates me. No salmon & cream cheese bagel without the capers ! Help me to find out why that is !
Where are the smoked salmon, bagels and cream cheese at breakfast in Israel?
One of the biggest shocks for many foreign visitors to Israel is the lack of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine with which they are familiar. Where are the smoked salmon, bagels and cream cheese at breakfast?
The reason for that is simple. Despite the fact that many Jews living in Israel can trace their lineage to Eastern Europe, they forsook traditional Ashkenazi food both because of scarcity but also in deliberate service to the formation of a new national narrative.
The early years of Jewish statehood were marked by austerity. Fuel, such as natural gas and electricity, was in short supply. Bagels, which require an extra step of boiling before being baked, were too energy-intensive.
Austerity alone cannot explain the failure of Ashknazi cuisine to thrive in the new Jewish state – and that’s where ideology comes into play. The adoption of indigenous food lent the early European implants an air of authenticity.
Food is so tied to Jewish heritage, laws of kashrut [kosher dietary rules]
My own H&H bagel story
The first time I had a bagel was in Washington D.C. . I had just moved into a condo on 4114 Davis Place in Glover Park for my second year of my Master’s Degree in International Relations at the Johns Hopkins University. In the early Fall of 1989 my Austrian roommate and I had agreed to meet up with Klaus at the H&H Bagel store at Dupont’s Circle. Klaus was an exchange student from the Humbold University in what was still then Eastern Germany. We both had met him the previous Summer during a JHU schooltrip organized by the Bologna center. He was hosting the barbecue for our group in the countryside near East Berlin.
“as American as pizza, chow mein and apple pie”
At that time we had no clue he would be in D.C. the same year as us. As the 3 of us are happily chatting over our bagel, Klaus gets a phone call from his wife who had stayed behind. She was calling Klaus from the ‘other’ side of town, West Berlin. It was November 9th 1989 and the Berlin Wall was coming down. She had managed to cross the border to taste freedom & liberty.
While Klaus remained in D.C. to finish his ‘exceptional’ year abroad, his wife had to cope with major changes in her life & the society she had always known. Unknowingly they drifted apart and unfortunately the marriage did not survive.
Enjoying that very first salmon, cream cheese & capers bagel coincided with me being a first hand withness of a falling regime in a year that reshaped the modern world.
The last time I checked online, I could not find an H&H outlet in D.C..
The original store has closed but two retail locations in Manhattan and locations at JFK Airport and LaGuardia Airport are currently open daily.
Before closing in January 2012, the original store and bakery had been the largest bagel manufacturer in New York City. H&H Bagels continues to be one of the largest bagel manufacturers in New York City with their four retail/catering locations, a global wholesale business, and a nationwide shipping business.
H&H bagels are all natural, kosher, vegan and non-GMO.
The Rise & Fall of H&H Bagels
In September, 2015 then President Barack Obama informed The Forward, in a historic interview, of his shock at learning of the closing of his favorite NYC Bagel eatery, H&H Bagels in January of 2012.
While the President was shocked by the closing of the world’s most famous, and recognizable, bagel brand, what was truly shocking were the underlying facts and circumstances surrounding the closing. Most people knew H&H as the iconic, Upper West Side Bagel Shop where the lines rounded the block, where celebrities loved to frequent, and where one of the most popular Seinfeld television episodes was created. Yet few people knew about the drama and decadence that existed behind the scenes of this NYC landmark.
The Rise and Fall of H&H Bagels takes you on a journey that starts with the fulfillment of the American Dream and ends in contested, five year Bankruptcy. This is the outrageous, true story of a man who defied the odds and became an American legend, and then defied logic and the law by dismantling his beloved Empire.
The story of H&H Bagels is not only the story of the rise and fall of a thriving American business, it is a story of intrigue, economics, corruption, and resiliency, as told, with humor, from the perspective of the one man who lived through it all- its National Business Manager and right hand to the man at the top of the H&H Empire, Helmer Toro.
There’s a certain kind of joy in breaking the overnight fast by biting into a bagel: crackling crust,
chewy center, smooth and silky cream cheese, sharp smoked salmon.
For some, capers and onions join the ritual.