My kingdom for Bialys
I grew up in New York so I know about bread. Or more importantly, the Bialy. Not a bagel, a 'bee-ahh-lly' as it's pronounced. Wikipedia declares it is originally from the city of Bialystock in Poland, a traditional bread roll in Polish Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine.
According to www.foodrepublic.com , 'the bialy is NOT a sub-type of bagel, it's a thing unto itself. Round with a depressed middle filled with cooked onions and sometimes poppy seeds, it is simply baked.' Sarah Kaltman, my best friend, turned me on to them in high school. Her father was a cardiologist and believed in healthier choices. I vividly remember sinking my teeth into a bialy at Sarah's for the first time. Mmm. It was so different: soft and tasty, chewy and crispy at the same time. This was love at first bite.
From then on, I ordered a bialy whenever I could. My first job after college was at Harper's Bazaar on 53rd off seventh avenue. Rather than risk being late while eating breakfast at home, I would order a toasted bialy with butter at Hunter's, the local deli before hopping on the subway. It would still be warm when I scarfed it down at my desk 20 minutes later. Even when I worked at 9 West in Connecticut, I hung onto the habit, sometimes only eating half and then saving the rest for later. The great thing about the bialy is that it doesn't matter if it's hot or cold, it's still super delicious, unlike it's burly big brother, the bagel, which tastes like rubber after a while. I was a happy girl when I had a bialy in my hand.
But life happens and palettes change. I went to live in Colombia, South America for nine years. Bialys were replaced by the delicious cheesy pandeyuca. In Miami, I would often see signs for bagels. When I asked if they had my beloved on their shelves. I was always met with a resounding 'no.' How could this be, I wondered? In Los Angeles, I got used to buying crumpets at Trader Joes which are pretty good substitutes but my taste buds still yearned for the bread of my youth.
I was in New York for a week recently, visiting my mother. It was wonderful to walk around, go to museums, and hang out with her. The day before going back to LA, I sauntered into my old stomping ground, Hunter Deli. It had been quite a while since I'd last stepped foot amidst its hallowed walls. I confidently went to the back to place my order.
"I'd like a toasted bialy with butter, please," I said to the man behind the counter. Long silence.
"We don't sell bialys anymore,' he finally replied.
"Are you kidding? I used to come here when I was a kid. Bialys are a New York staple. How can you have bagels and not bialys?" I was ready to get into a fistfight.
"People never asked for bialys so we stopped ordering them, the man replied apologetically. "When was the last time you got one here?" he asked.
"Oh, sometime in the 90's, I guess."
"We stopped carrying them last year. I'm sorry." I felt bad for making him feel bad.
"It's ok" I said, smiling and walked out. I would not be back. I stood outside looking at the grey sky. What was the world coming to?
Back in LA, I was disappointed but not defeated. A friend on Facebook mentioned a bagel place in Sherman Oaks. "Maybe there's hope,' I thought to myself, dialing on my cell phone. "Sorry, we don't carry bialys," the woman on the other end said. I would not be deterred. By hook or by crook I was going to find my lost love. I called up three other places. Same thing. I asked around and got blank stares when I mentioned the b word. There had to be a place that sold them. There were entire communities of New Yorkers living in the Los Angeles area, for crying out loud.
I was in Burbank last week, finishing an early morning voiceover session. In order to beat the traffic, I had skipped my usual hearty breakfast and eaten an unsatisfying green banana instead. To reward myself for getting there on time and finishing early, I went on yelp and typed 'bialys' in the search. Hank's on Riverside Drive popped up.
"Good morning, do you sell bialys?"
"Yes, we do." I almost dropped the phone. I couldn't believe it. My dream was about to come true.
"I'll be right there!" I shouted. I took deep belly breaths so as not to get too excited while driving. I had to prepare for the worst. They could be terrible and taste like cardboard. Destiny found me a parking spot right in front and I strolled in. The guys behind the counter couldn't have been more patient with me as I looked at all the available choices. On their recommendation, I ordered a non-traditional toasted bialy with salmon, lox, sprouts, and radishes. I sat in a little garden in the back and it promptly arrived a few minutes later. I spent a full hour, munching slowly and enjoying the taste, the texture, the smell of my old gustatory obsession.
Thank you Hank's. You did not disappoint. I'll be back 😊
A bialy has no fat, it's got no sugar in it of any kind, it's not fried, and it doesn't have any oil. It is a pretty healthy bread, designed to be eaten fresh and to be eaten daily.
-----David Zablocki, owner of https://kossars.com/ in Manhattan. They ship nationwide 😉