September 23rd 1968  (Age 53)

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Random Thots is brought to you by Graeme MacKay, Editorial Cartoonist at the Hamilton Spectator, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Website:

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Sunday, January 27, 2008
The Montreal Bagel Challenge

So what's with this cartoon, anyway, you ask?

While I was in the midst of a family trip to Walt Disney World a battle brewed back home between a Montrealer living in Hamilton who was enraged over the fact that a supermarker chain dared to claim one of the bagels it sold was "Montreal style". Here's the Montreal Gazette column which put words to print on the issue. The Fortino's store owner ignored the potential legal argument over the name and went further to suggest his bagels were better than Montreal's. This inspired the Gazette columnist to challenge Hamilton to a bagel taste test to see whose was better.  (Which was probably unwise, given he'd never even tried a Viateur or Fairmont bakery made Montreal bagel -- silly man.)

A day or so later the Hamilton Spectator accepted a challenge (2) to do a taste test and the plans were put in place for a review.

Meanwhile, comments on a Montreal messageboard filled up in defence of their beloved dough and the usual, tired jabs were made at Hamilton's expense. The Gazette wrote that it was looking forward to the contest. Back here at the Spectator, the best defence to Hamilton's bagel came from an ex-Montrealer, which was basically no defence. A messageboard from the Hamilton Spectator seemed to only attract comments from irate ex-Montrealers, with one rather over-the-top comment from an angry, yet predictable, Hamiltonian who felt the need to lambaste everyone for arguing over bagels when we should be discussing ...oh good grief... everything from Al Qaeda Caledonia to Afghanistan instead.

So came the Hamilton Spectator bagel review, which didn't include the real Montreal bagels (due to shipping issues etc.), but a ranking of the bagels available in the Hamilton area. You can even watch a video of it, which I choose not to watch because I'm in it and I hate seeing myself on tv. In the event they remove the story from the Internet you can read it here:

A panel puts Hamilton bagels to the test

January 24, 2008 -- The Hamilton Spectator

Oy vey!

Such a shemozzle over a roll of dough with a hole in the middle.

The City of Montreal is throwing a complete hissy fit at the gall of a Hamilton grocery chain that bills its bagels as "Montreal-style."

At the centre of the kerfuffle, as you may know, is a mild-mannered bagel that was minding its own business in a breadbasket at Fortinos when it attacked a horrified Montreal visitor with its very existence.

The affronted shopper whipped out his camera, zoomed in on a cinnamon-sugar number and posted the pic on the foodie website "A bastardization," he declared. "An abomination," said one observer. "Sacrilege," huffed another. Next thing you know, it's all over the papers as if there's no other news in La Belle Ville. What's next -- litigation?

Chillez-vous, nos amis! It's just a bagel.

The sign at the store doesn't say "Genuine Montreal bagels." It says "Montreal-style."

That means they're sorta like Montreal bagels. Like Chicago-style pizza. New York-style cheesecake. Buffalo-style wings.

You can buy Belgium cookies in Hamilton, too, New York Fries, Irish coffee, English trifle, Hollywood Bread and blow them all a raspberry with a big Bronx cheer. You don't hear Boston whining about exclusive title to baked beans, or Philly getting all proprietary about steak sandwiches.

Besides, where does Montreal get off claiming to be the grand pooh-bah of bagels? According to various and possibly dubious Internet sites, the first bagel was baked in 1683 by a Jewish baker in an Austrian bakery for a Polish king. Another claims the bagel originated in Poland in 1610 to help women prepare for childbirth. (Yeah, that'd be a big help.) Someone else posits the bagel came from Russia, where it was known as bubliki.

So whither the Vienna bagel? The Krakow bagel? The St. Petersburg bagel?

And another thing: Why did the Montrealer who was grocery shopping with his camera (and you have to wonder about that, eh?) focus on the cinnamon-sugar bagel instead of the pumpernickel and plain and poppyseed and all the rest that were labelled as Montreal-style?

The bottom line is: Who cares?

If you live in the bastion of bageldom, you can hit St-Viateur Bagel or Fairmount Bagel Bakery or Real Bagel and get your genuine, top-of-the-line Montreal bagel any old time. If you live in Hamilton, you can order them in, but really ... is there a reasonable facsimile in Hamilton?

Well, yes, as The Hamilton Spectator's esteemed panel of judges determined this week after an hour of squishing, sniffing, chewing and swallowing. And no, according to one intransigent taster at the table.

"They're not bagels," insisted Spec photographer Sheryl Nadler, a native Montrealer who was weaned on Montreal bagels and loads up at Real Bagel every she goes home to visit. None of them? "No."

Of the eight samples presented ever-so-elegantly on plastic plates and punctuated with a palate cleanser of spring water, most got a dismissive sneer from the purist panellist, one or two were deemed edible, and several actually elicited howls of derisive laughter.

"I had to chew it for 20 minutes before I could even swallow it," she said with some hyperbole. "It's stale."

The panel for the completely unscientific and subjective study also included Marc Albanese, artisanal baker and owner of Burlington's PaneFresco; Spectator new products reviewer Linda Ricciardi; the paper's resident food guru and winophile, Dan Kislenko; and editorial cartoonist Graeme MacKay, who has been fielding taunts from Terry (Aislin) Mosher, his colleague at the Gazette in Montreal.

Mosher's Tuesday cartoon (or, see below) depicted a Hamilton bagel in one of those impossible-to-open plastic packages with the caption: "However, there is some good news regarding those impossible-to-open plastic packages ... ," suggesting that any bagel from Hamilton should be thus entombed forever. Listen buster, we're from Hamilton. It was a bit cerebral. Or maybe just obtuse.

In any event, the results of the taste test were remarkably inconclusive. None of the panellists knew where the bagels came from or which one was which. The judges, with the exception of the dulcet-tempered Ricciardi, were not exactly filled with the milk and cookies of human kindness.

"This one reminds me of a kaiser roll," said Kislenko. "There's not enough crust. You should be able to snap a bagel and hear it crack."

"What?" Nadler snapped. "Bagels don't snap."

"This could be from a mix," Albanese mused. "I guess it's OK."

"They all look like inner tubes," commented MacKay.

The only consensus was on Weston Bakeries' Old Mill brand, which came in a plastic bag of six. In a word: stale. In Kislenko's words: "These have been hanging around a few days."

Still, from the pool of "doughy," "undercooked," "tough" and "crumbly," there emerged a shaky winner: The Great Canadian Bagel bagel. Close on its heels was -- ta dah! -- the plain Montreal-style bagel from Fortinos, followed by the kosher bagel from the Westdale Delicatessen.

So there you have it. Take your pick -- or move to Montreal.

Here's Terry Mosher's take:

So there you have it. The great Bagel war between Montreal and Hamilton has pretty much fizzled out. If anything was proven in this is the fact that Montrealers are pretty passionate about their bagels. But as Dan Kislenko mentioned after the taste test, there are such things as bad bagels available in Montreal and when it really comes down to it, the Fairmont, and St. Viateur bakeries are two of the few places in Montreal that bake up a great bagel. And great they are. Whenever I get them it's when I'm on my way home, and my wife will attest to the fact that before we get home to put the dozen bagels in the deep freeze to preserve their freshness, the dozen has dropped to 8, thanks to our eating them when they're warm out of the oven. After they're gone I'm stuck eating the big old inner tubes they call bagels around here. But as my cartoon suggests at the top, Montreal may have the best bagels, but Hamilton's got the best donuts, born from a bakery that had its start here and became so popular it's now a national sensation. But we Hamiltonians don't need to gloat about it.

Posted at 01:09 pm by Graeme_MacKay


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