Arts & Culture

London’s Bagel Scene

Maria Balinska, author of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, is guest blogging as part of Food Week in the Jewcy Book Club. Maria’s book will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about bagels. This … Read More

By / February 2, 2009

Maria Balinska, author of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, is guest blogging as part of Food Week in the Jewcy Book Club. Maria’s book will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about bagels.

This Saturday night, as most Saturdays, I drove to the North West London neighbourhood of Golders Green to stock up on the week’s – still warm – bagels. Carmelli is Israeli owned and many of the staff there these days are recent arrivals from Eastern Europe. This week it’s bitterly cold – we’re experiencing so-called ‘Russian’ winds and snow – and people weren’t lingering outside the bakery. Usually there is a fair sized crowd milling around on a Saturday night, mostly young Jewish Londoners picking up bagels and cream cheese after a night of clubbing. It takes a good 40 minutes by tube from central London to get to Carmelli’s but one Saturday I even bumped into members of a Manchester Jewish youth group who’d come especially for the bagels.  

Bagels have been around in Britain as long as they have in the US but it’s only recently that they’ve begun to ‘make it’ on the high street and in the train stations. In the UK the bagel is still used as a badge of Jewish identity. In the 2002 novel Bagels for Breakfast, for example, the exotic act of eating a bagel is one of the hurdles the Jewish hero’s gentile girlfriend must leap before being accepted.

The Beigel Bake on Brick Lane – which 100 years ago was the heartland of Jewish London and now is almost completely Bengali – is the cult place to eat bagels, immortalised (for some) in the lyrics of the 1990s alternative Bristol band Earthling. Night shift workers, actors on their way home after the show, financial whizz kids (it’s right next door to the City), even Mariah Carey who allegedly was told to go the back of the queue like everyone else. It’s those bank workers, though, who got me thinking as I listened to yet another grim report about the financial crisis on the way home from Golders Green Saturday. So just how are bagels being affected by the credit crunch? A natural enough question for anyone who has obsessed about the history of bagels and bagel makers for the past few years. And a bit of research turned up the fact that one major bagel player in London (which has been shipping its annual production of 150 million bagels across Europe and to Japan and Hong Kong) just last week called in the receivers.  

Maria Balinska, author of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, is guest blogging on Jewcy, and she’ll be here all week.  Stay tuned.