What’s a Montreal-Style Bagel, Eh?

(Image credit: Courtesy of Tourism Montreal)

Everyone knows that New York bagels are a thing — but did you know that Montreal is also famous for its bagels?

New Yorkers discovered the distinctive delights of Canadian-style bagels when Black Seed Bagels arrived on the scene in April 2014. In truth, their version is more of a cultural mash-up, a hybrid of New York and Montreal styles, but even die-hard New York bagel fans were smitten with this smaller, denser, sweeter option.

Here’s what sets the Canuck bagel apart from its American cousin.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Tourism Montreal)

In Montreal, the two big names every local recognizes are St-Viateur and Fairmont. Both make bagels around the clock and are iconic establishments because of their long history. Fairmont was the first bagel maker on the scene, making bagels starting in 1919. St-Viateur arrived almost 40 years later, launching its bakery in 1957.

If you visit the bakeries themselves, you’ll depart with a paper bag of hot, fresh ones. Here’s what to expect.

A Denser and Chewier Texture

Montreal bagels have a distinctive texture. They are denser and chewier than their American cousins. And the high heat blasting from wood-burning ovens gives them a crunchy exterior. After biting into the crust, your teeth land into a soft pillow of dough. But this dough has a dark side: some purists find Montreal bagels too unforgiving and tough if eaten when they’re more than a few hours old.

A Honeyed Flavor

Montreal bagels also have a sweetness to them that is quite unique — a kind of fingerprint — readily identifying them as Canadian creations. It comes from adding honey to the boiling water the bagels are poached in.

A Smaller Stature (and a Bigger Hole)

While America takes a go-big-or-go-home approach to size, the Canuck versions are smaller — almost half the size — and have bigger holes. Their smaller stature also means that Montrealers tend not to slice their bagels in two. They’re often eaten as is, or torn into chunks and dipped into spreads.

Classic Toppings (and No Rainbows)

In Montreal, they stick to classic toppings, like sesame or poppy seed and all-dressed (with both seeds). And while you’ll find rainbow bagels and the like in New York, novelty flavors are much less common in Montreal — although Fairmont gets a bit fancy with chocolate chip bagels.

Of course each city — Montreal and New York — claims their bagels outshine the other’s. Our opinion? Both offer pretty stellar versions. We’re not going to take sides in this battle because we know that preference often comes from personal history. The taste you know best or grew up with is most likely the taste you covet.

Let there be peace — and lots of great bagels on both sides of the border.

Have you tried Montreal-style bagels? What did you think? Do you like them better than their American brethren?