Bagels on Steroids

I confess. I have an addiction. My husband, Ralf, is paying (literally) the price for it. In fact, he supports it – with aplomb, no less.

I am not a candidate for typical addictions. Smoke of any kind seizes my lungs if I am within thirty feet of the smoker, and makes me hack and gasp. Thus, any kind of smoking substance is, as they say in Merry England, right out.

I will get mildly tipsy after two sips of any kind of wine (even Manischewitz). Everything I encounter will become suddenly, terrifically funny. Thus, I don’t bother with wine. I have a serious nature about the world and do not intend to find it funny. Absurd, yes. Funny, no.

I don’t particularly like the taste of beer and I overreact to simple drugs given to infants. I don’t like imbibing things that are likely to make me sick. I have too many things to do to be sick.

Most importantly, I need very little stimulus to feel extravagantly happy.

I will dance about the kitchen to (I know, I know) the soundtracks of old musicals. Ripe bananas sliced, frozen for about an hour, and then whirred in the blender with a little soy milk will produce what I call “banana ice cream.” Slurping down said product will absolutely make my day (particularly if it is the dessert to spicy Indian dishes). If my cat, Beowulf, deigns to sit on my lap while I type, as he is doing just now, I will find that all is much righter with the world than I imagined.

Still, I have an addiction. Not surprisingly, it is a Jewish one.

I confess: If I go more than two weeks without a bialy, I will become grumpy and sad. I will complain about the lackluster bagel everyone thinks of when they free associate the words “Jewish” and “food.” I will cast aspersions on those who eat the tarted-up versions with chocolate chips and cinnamon, whether the consumers are Jewish or goyish. The only bagel I care for is pumpernickel, and it cannot compete with a bialy. It makes a substitute, but a poor one.

Google “bialy” and you will find, in addition to the ubiquitous Wikipedia article, texts like this: “Outside of New York City, the bialy is little known. A bialy is similar to a bagel, in that it is a round, chewy roll.”


A bialy has chutzpah; a bagel is just a Jewish version of a biscuit. A bialy is never merely a creation of egg and flour and water – a plain bialy contains (thanks be to the Holy One!) onion and garlic. A bialy has a wonderful well in the middle. Toast a bialy, let a generous pat of butter melt in the center, tear and dip pieces of the bialy from around the edge until you are left with an oniony-garlicky-buttery center for the perfect final mouthful and you know something of the world to come.

A bialy helps stiffen your resolve, fill you with the warmth and joy that strengthens body and soul before heading out into a world where Things Must Be Done. A bialy is a perfect end to the day of Things Done, warm and cozy and nurturing.

A daily bialy is as good as a mother. It is comfort and love and support, all rolled into one.

I am convinced that Jews were making bialys back in Egypt. No wonder a week with matzah is so traumatic.

My husband, Ralf, enables my addiction, may the Holy One of Blessing bless him. He will drive all the way down to the Queen City of Charlotte at regular intervals with the sole purpose of buying me a crate of bialys.

The last time he went, the store owner tried to introduce him to a Charlotte Lubavitcher rabbi who was standing at the counter just behind him.

“His wife,” the storeowner explained to the rabbi, “teaches at UNCC in the Department of Religion.”

The rabbi nodded.

“She is the advisor of Hillel…”

“Was,” my husband put in.

(Ralf didn’t want to make me responsible for the current state of affairs with our Hillel group. When Jewish students throw parties with cheese and pepperoni the advisor may get a rash of angry parental emails.)

“She is… she is…” the store owner said.

Ralf knew where the friendly store owner was trying to go and knew why he was having trouble going there.

“Yes,” he said, “I am the husband of the rabbi of Concord.”

Then he smiled sweetly at my Orthodox colleague, grabbed the crate of bialys and headed out to the car.

He came home and packed almost the whole crate into the freezer. When I arrived some time later that day, I found that he had left a bag on the counter to defrost. He had even taken one out of the bag to make sure it was soft and ready for toasting upon my arrival.

“God bless you a million times,” I said.

“Would you like a bialy?” he answered.



8 Replies to “Bagels on Steroids”

  1. It is the small joys that make life worth living. You absolutely captured the essence of Bialy Love with this post and I couldn’t stop smiling in total agreement the entire time. As Roz would say: “Fabulous!” (Also, there needs to be a bialy night in my future sometime soon!)

  2. Increasingly, Carol and I find that small gestures turn into rituals that leave us . . . well, happy. Now, with your posting, you may have driven us to create yet another of these little rituals–the Bialy. We know only of bagels, mostly bad, but sometimes quite good. But, being goyish and all, we have not yet been captured by the Bialy. And, so we must venture out–as captain Kirk said, “go where no man has ventured” (well, aside from Ralf, maybe) to acquire a Bialy.
    Thank you.

  3. I knew I liked you for many reasons. Goyish though I seem, I am a bialy lover from wAAAy back, since 1973 when I lived across Roswell Road in Atlanta from a kosher deli/bakery that made its own bagels, bialys, and pastries. The intoxicating yeasty aroma would waft over the 6 lanes, enticing us to jaywalk/run as quickly as possible in order to catch those bialys as they fell off the conveyor belt. They were so soft and warm they needed no attire. A warmed-over one on day two was lightly dressed with butter and orange marmalade. Needless to say, the kosher deliciousness of this place was directly responsible for ten extra pounds hanging around where they should not have been, but I didn’t mind. It reminded me of my Jewish family whose home I had just left in order to return to college and that I still miss to this day.

    1. Erik recently found a recipe online; I want to have the experience you are describing. A bialy fresh from the oven has got to be an amazing experience!

      1. You are a brave woman. I have always put bagels/bialys in the same class with baklava, insulation, roofing, electrical stuff, and plumbing–best left to the experts.

  4. I never krew that bialys exisited. I thought bagels were a Jewish invention! I am so glad that your hubby can find them for you in Charlotte! That is amazing. It is always nice to have a comfort food that provides so much joy! Now to making them yourself and being able to have it striahgt your oven! That will be heaven for sure!

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