The Basics of Bialys

Guess what? The “humble bialy” is enjoying a full-on “revival.”

So declareth New York Magazine, noting that bialy purveyors, including the newly remodeled and recently reopened old-school bakery Kossar’s Bialys, are popping up all over the city that never sleeps (when it could be awake and eating a bread product instead).

But for anyone out there who is not entirely familiar with Polish-Jewish foodstuffs, this joyous welcome back to a beloved baked good raises a very important question: What’s a bialy?

Here are a few things to know:

1. Bialys (short for the Yiddish bialystok kuchen) originated in Bialystok, Poland, and were brought to America by Eastern European Jews immigrating in the early 1900s.

2. At one point, bialy bakeries flourished in New York City, numbering in the dozens, and were especially concentrated on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood that has been called “Bialy Central.”

3. Like a bagel, a bialy is a roll that is round and chewy.

4. Unlike a bagel, a bialy is sort of matte and flat-ish, and it has no hole — just a depression in the middle that may be filled with sauteed chopped onions, poppy seeds or garlic.

5. Also unlike bagels, which are boiled before they are baked, bialys are not boiled. They’re just baked, emerging with bubbly gaps inside.

6. Bialy fans often enjoy them straight up, fresh from the oven, although you can also top them with a shmear of cream cheese or butter — or cured or smoked fish.

If you’re wondering why bagels are everywhere, while bialys have remained mostly a New York thing, it may be because they have a short shelf life and are ideally eaten within five or six hours after emerging from the oven, making them rather unsuitable for shipping.

Want to make your own bialys? Here’s a recipe. Don’t forget to eat them fresh!

Photo courtesy of iStock

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