The hole story

Real New York-style bagels can be found in Jerusalem, but be warned: some are steamed instead of boiled

Bagel521 (photo credit: AMY SPIRO)
(photo credit: AMY SPIRO)
For homesick Americans – in particular New Yorkers – there’s nothing that quite brings back memories of home like a fresh bagel and, of course, your schmear of choice. Plus, there’s nothing quite like sinking your teeth into your first post-Passover bagel. And after seven days of matza you deserve to be treated to a good one.
While bagels have certainly taken Israel – and Jerusalem – by storm over the past couple of decades, it is a very specific method of creation that results in a true bagel. The dough – after rising for at least 12 hours – must be shaped, briefly boiled, then baked to give bagels their distinctive texture and appearance.
However, there are versions for sale that are steamed before baking instead of boiled, and also those that are just baked, resulting in little more than a roll with a hole in the middle – and a dusting of sesame seeds. Faux bagels are easy to spot because they lack the shiny, smooth crust that boiling gives them.
Many an Israeli bakery sells “bagels” that are simply big, soft, squishy rolls that you can hold up to your eye and look through. It is for this reason that authenticity was crucial part of the grading process, in addition to flavor and texture. Most places sell the same varieties of bagels, sesame, poppy, garlic, onion, plain and whole wheat. I suppose it is only I who has a hankering for the chocolate-chip bagel I used to pick up at my local store in New Jersey.
“Everything” bagels are just what they sound like – bagels sprinkled with a combination of all the different toppings the store offers.
It is no surprise to see bagels taking root in Israel, after all, they have historically traveled wherever Jews have gone – from their origin in Krakow, Poland (bagel is derived from the Yiddish word beygl) to their prominence in New York City and later around the globe.
There was little price variance among all the bagel places I tested, with the unsliced offerings ranging only between NIS 4.5 and 6 each, though adding spreads and toppings tends to triple or even quadruple the price.
All tested locations are kosher.
Holy Bagel: A-/B I struggled with what grade to give Holy Bagel, since it is a bit of a contradiction. The branches owned by Holy Bagel churn out authentic, boiled then baked bagels.
But at least some of the stores, including the ones in the center of town, Ramot and Geula, are franchises, and while they buy the dough from Holy Bagel, they then do with it what they please, an employee of the company told me, which for some includes steaming and then baking, instead of boiling.
The other branches, run by Holy Bagel headquarters, offer bagels with a perfect chew and a nice crisp, smooth crust, although perhaps in need of a touch of salt.
Therefore I awarded Holy Bagel two grades – one for the stores it owns, and one for its franchises.
Varieties: plain, poppy, garlic, onion, everything, sesame, za’atar, salt, cinnamon raisin and whole wheat NIS 5 each or NIS 52 for 13 Eight locations in Jerusalem
Bagel Cafe: ABagel Cafe, which replaced Tal Bagels in a central spot on Emek Refaim, caters perfectly to the strong Anglo community in the neighborhood with American-style bagels. Its offerings – like those of its predecessor – have a nice chew with a smooth crisp crust and soft inside. The bagels are also nice and thick with a well-balanced flavor.
While at this location they are the same price as at most other shops, the fillings and spreads are on the more expensive side.
Varieties: plain, sesame, poppy, salt, onion, garlic, whole wheat, light, everything NIS 5 each or NIS 50 for 12 46 Emek Refaim Street
Brunch Bagel: B The bagels at this Jerusalem chain had a nice shiny crust and satisfying chew, but were unfortunately just slightly underdone inside. Of course, it is hard for me to say if this is a regular occurrence, or just that particular batch, and I hope for the latter. The bagels were also kind of flat and thin, but had a well-balanced flavor.
Varieties: plain, sesame, poppy, multigrain, onion, garlic, everything NIS 5 each or NIS 60 for 13 16 Shamgar Street (in the Rav Shefa Mall) and 3 Ezer Yoldot Street Sam’s Bagels: B Sam’s Bagels – which has three locations, most prominently right on Ben-Yehuda Street – sells a variety of bagels with a shiny but very thin crust, and which are fairly lacking in salt. My somewhat educated guess is that they are steamed before baking, instead of boiled, which significantly affects their texture, but I was not invited into the kitchen to see.
Varieties : plain, sesame, poppy, garlic, onion, everything, multigrain and whole wheat.
NIS 6 each 11 Ben-Yehuda Street, 15 Paran Street and 26 Malchei Yisrael Street
Metro Bagels: BWhile Metro Bagels has a New York-style train logo and is conveniently located next to a light rail stop outside Mahane Yehuda, its offerings are sadly not New York-style (or even Montreal-style) at all. The store’s bagels have basically no crust, a dull finish and are extremely lacking in salt. They are, however, thick and a nice, big size.
Varieties: Plain, whole wheat, sesame, onion, garlic, poppy and everything.
NIS 5 each 123 Jaffa Road
Coffee Bagel: BNestled in the Old City, just behind the Western Wall, Coffee Bagel seems to always be teeming with Americans and tourists, though I am not quite sure why. The almost nonexistent, dull crust on its bagels leaves me to assume they were not boiled before baking, and they are fluffy inside rather than chewy. They do have a balanced salty and sweet flavor though.
Varieties: plain, sesame, onion, garlic, poppy, everything, whole wheat NIS 4.5 each 18 Tiferet Israel Street Bonkers Bagels: BWhile Bonkers Bagels was once famed for its central Old City spot, that storefront has since been taken over by Holy Bagel, though it does now have a location open next to the Jerusalem Municipality. Though Bonkers is one of the most historic names in Jerusalem bagels, the offerings it sells just didn’t seem much like bagels to me – with a soft inside and a dull and not remotely crisp crust. They are a nice size and have a well-balanced flavor, though.
Varieties: plain, sesame, poppy, onion, garlic, everything, whole wheat NIS 4.5 each or NIS 45 for 11 26 Jaffa Road
Bagel Bite: C+ While Bagel Bite looks like it was transplanted right from the streets of suburban New York, its bagels unfortunately don’t taste like it. The outside was craggy and dull instead of shiny and smooth, and they were thin and flat with little flavor, and no bite to the crust. If you’re not in the mood for bagels, it also sells other popular imports: sushi and the Hungarian kurtosh pastry.
Varieties: plain, sesame, whole wheat, onion, everything, poppy, salt, garlicNIS 5 each or NIS 50 for 12 84 Bethlehem Road
Have a suggestion for what I should taste next? Or mad that I left out your favorite bagel/pizza/ice cream/shakshuka place? Email •