Aside from the beach and Billy Joel, the bagel is the unofficial mascot of Long Island. Long Islanders are unabashed bagel snobs, and never back down from an opportunity to denigrate bagels of elsewhere.
It has been said that the water makes all the difference. Apparently, this hold true for the process of making bagels. Regardless of its veracity, some Florida bagel shops have resorted to either importing water from Long Island, or filtering water to emulate LI’s tapwater thus proving LI bagels reign supreme. This practice caters to Floridians who once called New York home. Brooklyn Water Bagels of southern Florida has gone as far as to develop “a proprietary water filtration and mineralization system that recreates this sparkling water.”
Why is the bagel so successful on LI? The answer: culture and price.
Bagels are expensive to produce, and consist of pricier ingredients. Long Island has an average income greater than most other regions in the United States, so the average LIer can afford this baked luxury.
Its roots derive from Italy and China, but the most direct ancestor is the Polish version of a soft pretzel, the obwarzanek. More importantly though, is that Jewish and Eastern European cultures share a common affinity for the food. Behind only Tel Aviv, New York City and Long Island has the second highest Jewish population of the world.
At the latter end of the 20th century, there was a bagel revolution. Gone was the era of your run-of-the-mill yeasted wheat bagels, New Yorkers ushered in a wave of unorthodox flavors, toppings and doughs. At any of the hundreds of bakeries and delis strewn across Nassau, Suffolk, Queens and Brooklyn, you can find a variety of bagels ranging from the traditional sesame seed, to chocolate chip, blueberry, French toast and more.
Seasons are reflected by the color of the foliage, but here on LI you can tell the time of year by the color of bagel dough. Around holidays such as Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July and Halloween, bakeries add food coloring to plain bagel dough to add a festive touch. In the summer months, Instagram and Snapchat are filled with colorful images of rainbow colored bagels offered by stores such as Stuff-a-Bagel and Town Bagel.
You can take someone out of LI, but you can’t take the LI out of someone. Bagels are a prime example of this phenomenon. I leave you with quotes from Long Island college students displaced in far away lands without their beloved bagels:
“Upstate doesn’t have bagels, they have bread shaped like bagels”
- Danielle Olive, 19, SUNY Cortland
“The bagels upstate are terrible. Literally awful. I don’t know why but they just don’t taste the same. Long Island bagels are the best.”
- Allie Horemis, 19, SUNY Cortland
“The bagels upstate are never fresh. They always taste stale and they’re the pre made ones that you get straight out of the package.”
- Anthony Regateiro, 19, SUNY Oswego
“They’re disappointing. It’s comparable to when you’re expecting a chocolate chip cookie but then it’s oatmeal raisin. You’re literally getting just a slightly thicker piece of bread.”
- Michelle Vayner, 18, SUNY Brockport
“Being from Long Island I have grown up with high bagel standards, so being away for school I had a hard time finding ones that were good, but luckily there is a deli nearby that is somewhat comparable to LI bagels.”
- Laura Russo, 18, University of Delaware
“Any bagel is better than no bagel but they just aren’t as good outside of LI.”
- Joe Landers, 18, SUNY Binghamton
“Bagels from LI are bagels and bagels from Upstate are circle shaped slices of bread with a hole in it. LI bagels are like Uggs and upstate bagels are like Emu.”
- Stephanie Vayner, 18, SUNY Binghamton
“It genuinely brings a tear to my eye that upstaters are lied to their whole life, believing that they are being fed ‘bagels.’”
- Gina Aliberti, 18, SUNY Binghamton
*Note: Ms. Aliberti’s original comment contained harsher language, so she revised her words but wishes to still convey her severe sentiments towards Binghamton’s bagel situation