toronto bagels

What makes a Toronto bagel?

There's no better breakfast than a bagel topped with lox and cream cheese. Yet for many, the humble bagel is more than just a vessel for schmear.

This brunch-time staple is the source of much debate and most bagel aficionados in Toronto are loyal to a specific bakery, be it Kivas, Gryfe's, What A Bagel, Bagel House or St. Urbain.

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Our city's flush with options, but some think the term Toronto bagel is a misnomer, arguing bakeries here carry either New York or Montreal-style bagels, the two bagel varieties that dominate in North America. So does a Toronto bagel even exist?

"A Toronto bagel is basically a New York bagel," says Ben Rafael who owns Kivas, a bagel bakery that's been in business since 1979.

Indeed, it's difficult to find references to Toronto bagels. Maria Balinska's comprehensive book The Bagel chronicles the spherical bread's journey through 17th century Germany, Poland and eventually, North America, but it doesn't mention our Canadian city.

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Michael Wex, a so-called Yiddish maven and the author of Rhapsody in Schmaltz - a book about Ashkenazi food - says outside of the city, no one really talks about Toronto bagels.

He explains, “I don’t think anyone in New York thinks of it as a New York bagel, unless they’re comparing it to something else. But once you get outside of New York, to say New York is a way of saying Jewish, a polite way."

Of course, Montreal bagels are unique (they're sweeter, denser, and all around better), but maybe all other bagels then, are just, well, bagels. There is, however, one bagel in Toronto that seems to stand out.

Gryfe's doesn't have the crunch of a New York-style bagel and it's definitely not a Montrealer; owner Moishe Gryfe probably wouldn't approve if you lumped his famous bagel into the latter category.

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"It’s a little different than the other guys and that little difference is what people like about our product," says Moishe, describing the famous fluffy bagels his father started churning out in the early 1960s.

Gryfe's Bagels operates a brisk business on Bathurst Street (it's known to run out), but you can also find these bagels at more than 100 other stores, including Pusateri's.

The Gryfe name has clout. One time at the airport, Moishe recounts that a customs officer took a look at his passport and asked if he was related to the Gryfe's Bagel family. "It’s amazing what a little bagel can do," he says with a laugh.

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And plenty of other Toronto bagels also seem fluffier than the typical New Yorkers, like What A Bagel's and Bagel World's, for instance, which both provide an excellent base for a sandwich.

Perhaps, while others are arguing about the merits of New York versus Montreal bagels, we in Toronto can just enjoy our bagels in peace. With a bisel lox, please.

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez at What A Bagel

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