Monday, November 23, 2009
There are still many good reasons to visit or live in New York City, and food is one of them. Certainly the world has changed, and many food specialty products once only available in places like New York are now available elsewhere.
At one time, it was difficult to find cappuccino outside big cities like New York. As recently as the 1980s, a coffee aficionado I knew bemoaned his fate when leaving the city to return the suburbs. Now, of course, a cappuccino is only as far away as the nearest Starbucks.
Visitors to New York City as well as residents look for those special things unique to the city. If this is the type of thing you seek, something unique and authentic, look to New York's ethnic foods. The large pockets of immigrant groups left many of their cultural roots behind when resettling here, but food is not one of them.
The bialy is still relatively unknown, even in New York City. The bialy is a bagel-shaped roll. There is no hole in the center, however - only a flattened depression, typically with onions. It is much lighter than a bagel - many prefer it and its onion flavor. The word bialy is a shortened version of bialystoker kuchen, a traditional bread item in Polish Ashkenazi cuisine from Bialystok, Poland. It was introduced to the United States in the late 19th century and first marketed in New York State by Harry Cohen in the early 1900s.
Kossar's Bialys is the oldest bialy bakery in the USA. It was founded in 1936 by Isadore Mirsky and Morris Kossar and is located at 367 Grand Street in the Lower East Side. Everything is done right on premises - the flour, ovens and machinery are all in plain view - no pretense or nonsense here. See more photos here. Kossar's also makes bagels, bulka, sesame sticks, and onion discs. See their website here.
The history and study of this food is literally a book in itself. In 2002 a book was published, The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World (2002), by former New York Times food writer Mimi Sheraton, who used Kossar's as a base for her research.
The Jewish population is huge in New York City, and they have left large, indelible footprints in many spheres of our lives. I've enjoyed walking in those footprints, and I am following them right to Kossar's for some genuine bialys :)
Note: How curiously appropriate that the bakery is under the kosher certification of Rabbi Shmuel Fishelis, just a few blocks away at 25 Bialystoker Place.