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Bagels Are The Best Cultural Unifier Ever


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Augustine Milan



Food has always been a powerful vehicle for cultural exchange and exploration. Through its diverse flavors and culinary traditions, food has the ability to bring people together, transcend boundaries, and create meaningful connections. One such food that embodies this cultural unification is the humble bagel.


Originating in Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, the bagel has a rich history that stretches back several centuries. Today, it has become a beloved staple in the diets of people from all walks of life, regardless of their background or nationality.


In this article, we will delve into the fascinating journey of the bagel, exploring its historical origins, its evolution into a global culinary delight, and its cultural significance as a unifying force. From the streets of New York City to the cafes of Paris, the bagel has transcended borders and captivated taste buds worldwide.


So, join us as we embark on a mouthwatering exploration of the bagel’s journey, and discover how this simple baked good has become an enduring symbol of cultural unity.


Historical Origins of Bagels

The origins of the bagel can be traced back to Jewish communities in Poland, where it emerged in the early 17th century. It is believed to have been inspired by a traditional Eastern European bread called the obwarzanek, which was shaped similarly but lacked the distinctive chewy texture and the signature hole of the bagel.


Legend has it that the first bagel was created as a tribute to King Jan III Sobieski, who led the Polish forces to victory against the Ottoman Empire in the famous Battle of Vienna in 1683. In celebration of the victory, a local Jewish baker shaped the dough into a stirrup-like form, symbolizing the king’s favored mode of transportation, the horse. This new creation was then named “beugel,” derived from the German word “bügel,” meaning “stirrup.”


Over time, the bagel gained popularity within Jewish communities as a staple food, thanks to its unique shape, which made it easy to store and transport. It was traditionally made with simple ingredients, including flour, water, yeast, and salt. The dough was boiled and then baked, resulting in a dense and chewy texture, with a crisp crust.


In the late 19th century, as Jewish immigrants migrated to North America, they brought their beloved bagel recipe with them. The bagel quickly gained traction in cities like New York, where it became a mainstay of Jewish cuisine and eventually integrated into the broader American culinary landscape.


While the bagel originated in Eastern Europe, it has undergone some adaptations and variations in different parts of the world. Today, you can find bagels not only in Jewish communities but also in cafes, bakeries, and supermarkets worldwide, each with its own unique twist on this iconic baked good.


Bagels Around the World

The spread of bagels across the globe has resulted in a myriad of delicious variations that reflect the diverse culinary traditions of different countries. While the traditional plain bagel is undoubtedly popular, there are numerous regional and cultural adaptations that have taken the bagel to new heights.


In North America, particularly in the United States, the bagel has become a breakfast staple. New York City is renowned for its bagel culture, with countless delis and bakeries serving up freshly baked bagels topped with cream cheese, lox, and other delectable spreads. Varieties like sesame, poppy seed, and everything bagels have become iconic choices for bagel enthusiasts.


In Canada, the Montreal-style bagel has gained its own following. These bagels are smaller and denser than their New York counterparts, featuring a slightly sweeter taste. They are traditionally wood-fired, which gives them a distinct smoky flavor. Many Montreal-style bagels are topped with sesame seeds.


Across the pond in Europe, bagels have also found their place in various culinary landscapes. In the United Kingdom, the bagel has been embraced by the Jewish community and beyond. The classic combination of smoked salmon, cream cheese, and dill on a toasted bagel has become a beloved brunch option.


In France, the bagel has been given a unique twist as it blends with the country’s culinary traditions. The French baguette meets the bagel in what is known as the “baguette-bagel.” These elongated bagels are typically filled with a variety of savory ingredients like ham, cheese, and vegetables. They offer a fusion of French and American flavors, bringing a touch of culinary cross-pollination.


Even in Asia, bagels have found their way onto menus and into the hearts of food lovers. In Japan, bagels have been adapted into a sweet treat known as “melonpan,” which features a sweet, cookie-like crust. These melonpan bagels come in various flavors and are often enjoyed with a cup of tea or coffee.


These are just a few examples of how the bagel has evolved and been embraced in different parts of the world. Each country adds its own unique flavors and ingredients to create bagels that reflect their distinct culinary identities, giving us a global tapestry of bagel delights to explore.


Cultural Significance of Bagels

Bagels have transcended their humble beginnings to become more than just a popular breakfast or snack option. They carry a deep cultural significance that reflects the communities and traditions from which they originate.


For Jewish communities, the bagel holds a special place in their culinary and cultural heritage. It is often associated with Jewish identity and serves as a symbol of tradition, resilience, and community. The bagel’s round shape, with its hole in the center, is reminiscent of the cycle of life and the interconnectedness of the Jewish people.


Additionally, the bagel has become an integral part of Jewish celebrations and rituals. During religious holidays such as Hanukkah and Rosh Hashanah, bagels are often enjoyed as a festive treat. They are also a customary food at Jewish lifecycle events, including bris (circumcision ceremonies) and shivas (the seven-day mourning period after a funeral).


Outside of Jewish culture, the bagel has become a symbol of multiculturalism and diversity. As the bagel spread across different countries, it became embraced by people from all backgrounds and walks of life. It is a food that brings people together, regardless of their cultural or religious affiliations.


The bagel’s versatility makes it an ideal canvas for culinary creativity and fusion. It can be topped with a variety of spreads, meats, vegetables, and cheeses, allowing individuals to personalize their bagel experience to their own tastes and preferences. This adaptability has contributed to the bagel’s enduring popularity and its ability to cater to a wide range of palates.


Furthermore, the bagel’s accessibility and affordability have made it a symbol of inclusivity and egalitarianism. Unlike some luxury or exclusive foods, the bagel is widely available and affordable, making it accessible to people from all walks of life. Whether enjoyed from a street vendor in New York City or a local café in Paris, the bagel welcomes everyone to partake in its simple yet satisfying goodness.


Overall, the bagel’s cultural significance lies not just in its taste and texture, but also in the connections it fosters between individuals and communities. It unites people from different backgrounds, creating a sense of belonging and shared experiences. Through the enjoyment of a bagel, cultural barriers are broken down, and a sense of unity is nurtured.


Bagels as a Symbol of Unity

Bagels have a remarkable ability to serve as a symbol of unity, bringing people together and fostering connections across cultures and communities.


One of the ways in which bagels promote unity is through their versatility and inclusiveness. Regardless of one’s background or dietary preferences, there is a bagel for everyone. From vegan options to gluten-free varieties, the bagel has adapted to accommodate different lifestyles and dietary needs. This inclusivity ensures that no one is left out and that everyone can enjoy the simple pleasure of a delicious bagel.


Furthermore, bagels have a unique way of transcending borders and cultural boundaries. In cosmopolitan cities like New York City, for example, you can find bagel shops run by people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. This diversity showcases the universal appeal of the bagel and serves as a reminder that food can connect us all, regardless of our differences.


Bagel shops and cafes also act as community gathering spaces, where people from all walks of life can come together to enjoy a shared love for this beloved treat. It is in these spaces that conversations are sparked, friendships are formed, and bonds are strengthened. The bagel becomes a catalyst for connections and a symbol of communal gathering.


Another way in which bagels symbolize unity is through their representation in culinary collaborations and fusion dishes. Chefs and food enthusiasts have embraced the bagel as an ingredient to bring together flavors and techniques from different culinary traditions. For example, you might find a bagel topped with Mediterranean-inspired ingredients like hummus and feta cheese, or a bagel sandwich infused with Asian flavors. These innovative combinations highlight the power of food to bridge cultures and create new, harmonious culinary experiences.


Bagels also play a role in supporting local communities and fostering social connections. Many small, family-owned bagel shops become integral parts of their neighborhoods, serving as gathering spots for locals to meet, share stories, and support each other. These community-oriented establishments often go beyond just serving bagels, hosting events, fundraisers, and programs that strengthen neighborhood bonds.


Ultimately, the bagel’s ability to serve as a symbol of unity lies in its power to bring people together around a shared love for food. Whether enjoyed as a breakfast staple, a snack on the go, or a canvas for creative toppings, the bagel has the remarkable ability to dissolve barriers, spark conversations, and create a sense of belonging. In a world often marked by division, the bagel stands as a reminder of the common ground we can find through the shared enjoyment of good food.


Bagels in Pop Culture

Bagels have not only made their mark in culinary history but have also become iconic symbols in various aspects of popular culture. From movies and TV shows to music and literature, bagels have found their way into the hearts and minds of people around the world.


In the realm of film and television, bagels have often been featured as a breakfast staple or a quick bite on the go. From classic New York City scenes of characters enjoying a bagel and schmear (cream cheese) while walking down the street, to breakfast table conversations over a spread of bagels and toppings, bagels have become a visual shorthand for a satisfying and comforting meal.


One notable pop culture reference is the iconic television sitcom “Seinfeld,” where the character of Jerry Seinfeld and his friends frequently meet at their favorite diner to discuss life’s idiosyncrasies over cups of coffee and, of course, bagels. The show even had an episode dedicated to the search for the perfect bagel, highlighting the cultural significance and passion surrounding this humble baked good.


Bagels have also found their way into music, with references to this beloved food in song lyrics. Artists have used bagels as metaphors for various themes, from expressing love and affection to representing the melting pot of cultures in society. These lyrical references not only showcase the prevalence of bagels in everyday life but also their ability to capture the essence of shared experiences and emotions.


Bagels have even made their appearance in literature, serving as literary devices to convey cultural nuances or create atmospheric details. They can provide a sense of time and place, evoking the bustling streets of New York City or the simple pleasures of a Sunday morning breakfast. Whether it’s a character enjoying a bagel at a deli or a heartfelt conversation happening over a plate of bagels and lox, these mentions in literature add depth and authenticity to the storytelling.


Beyond their representation in popular media, bagels have also inspired various art forms. From photographs capturing the beauty of a perfectly toasted bagel to sculptures and paintings depicting the iconic shape and texture, artists have found inspiration in this humble, yet culturally significant, food item.


Moreover, bagels have become popular subjects in social media culture. People often share photos of their favorite bagel creations, showcasing unique toppings and flavor combinations. Bagel-filled hashtags and online communities dedicated to celebrating this culinary delight have flourished, further solidifying the bagel’s presence in pop culture.


Through their presence in movies, TV shows, music, literature, and art, bagels have become more than just a type of food – they have become cultural icons that capture the essence of community, comfort, and everyday moments. Bagels have the ability to transcend their physical form and resonate deeply with people, reminding us of the shared experiences and connections that can be forged through the simple act of breaking bread, or in this case, biting into a perfectly toasted bagel.



The humble bagel has woven itself into the fabric of our cultural landscape, transcending boundaries and uniting people around the world. Its history, versatility, and accessibility make it a powerful symbol of cultural unity and inclusiveness.


From its humble origins in Jewish communities in Eastern Europe to its widespread popularity in cities like New York City and beyond, the bagel has become a beloved staple in many cultures. It has the remarkable ability to bring people together, regardless of their background or nationality.


Bagels symbolize more than just a tasty breakfast or snack option. They represent traditions, resilience, and the strength of communities. Through the act of enjoying a bagel, connections are formed, conversations are sparked, and a sense of belonging is cultivated.


Whether it’s the classic New York-style bagel, the Montreal-style variation, or the fusion creations in different parts of the world, bagels have adapted to reflect the culinary identities of diverse cultures. They have become canvases for innovation and creativity, showcasing the way food can bridge gaps and foster unity.


Bagels have also found their place in pop culture, appearing in movies, TV shows, music, literature, and art. Their presence in these realms serves as a testament to the bagel’s cultural significance and its ability to capture the hearts and imaginations of people from all walks of life.


As we explore the world of bagels, we discover not only a delicious treat but a powerful symbol of cultural exchange and understanding. The bagel reminds us that amidst our differences, there are common threads that unite us. It serves as a reminder that food has the extraordinary power to connect, inspire, and create a sense of shared experience.


So, the next time you bite into a freshly baked bagel, take a moment to appreciate the journey this humble baked good has taken. From its historical origins to its global presence, the bagel stands as a symbol of unity, reminding us that in a world divided by so many things, our shared love for food can bring us closer together.