Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

 Bagel, Bagelry, Smoked Meat and Deli

"We must conclude that Christian Montrealers did not widen their taste for bagels, bagelries, smoked meat and delis to a taste for Jews nor for Judaism [for most had no idea they were buying] an artifact [of Jewish culinary heritage]."
"It would seem that Montreal's gastronomical heritage corresponds ... almost exclusively to Jewish culinary specialties."
"It was a neutral zone [affinity for traditional Jewish cuisine on St.Laurent Boulevard] that was a meeting point between the French, English and Jewish communities, and which enabled the bagel to become this iconic food." 
"Bagels and smoked meat were originally intended for the Jewish immigrant community but they soon became popular with workers [particularly those in the surrounding garment industry] who saw in them hearty and affordable food."
Oliver Bauer, theology professor, University de Montreal
bagel- fairmount- Jewish Food
Jewish Business News
"Quebecers likely think of smoked meat and bagels the same way they think of poutine -- as local Quebecois culinary staples."
"Those who are aware of their origins -- regardless of whether they harbour prejudice or not -- may subscribe to the same view as those who believe Jewish doctors are tops. A kind of reverse, albeit more gentle, racism."
Bill Brownstein, columnist, Montreal Gazette
montreal smoked meat sandwich (2)
Jewish Business News
According to Professor Bauer, and more than certified by the history of the Jewish presence in the Province of Quebec, and Montreal in particular, a general taste for Jewish dishes did nothing to persuade Quebecois to look upon the presence of Jews in their midst with more sympathy and favour. The culinary gap may have been bridged with the attraction of mouth-watering Jewish food specialties, but the culture gap remained unbridgeable.

And the simple fact seems to be that most gentiles have no idea whatever that bagels originated as a Jewish bakery item. "Most people are not making a political statement by going to Schwartz's", stated Professor Bauer, quoting sociologist Morton Weinfield of McGill University maintaining that a deliberate dissociation between smoked meat and bagels from Judaism and Jews helped Quebecoise support their traditional stance on "les Maudits Juifs"; detesting the latter and obsessively devouring the former.

The very fact that the Quebecois had the presence of Jews in their midst to thank for the presentation of delectable food had no bearing whatever in the general opinion of French Canadians with respect to the Jewish presence in their province, and complaints about the expanding Jewish presence at University de Montreal and McGill in the 1930s, were not about to be limited because of smoked meat and bagels.

The Jews thrived in Montreal, despite the presence of lively anti-Semitism, and so did the delis and bagel bakeries. The Jews thrived thanks to their insistence that they had a right to live there and attend university and do anything that any other person living in Quebec could aspire to, and they pushed back against adversity. The delis and the bagelries thrived because they had the custom of not only their Jewish clientelle but an ever-expanding army of specialty-food-appreciating non-Jews.

Schwartz's deli in Montreal is considered "a Quebec place and not a Jewish place". It was a 'Jewish place' and it still presents Jewish deli food, but it was bought out by Celine Dion, the Quebec/Las Vegas superstar celebrity, renamed La Charcuterie Hebraique de Montreal. Now in gentile hands, tradition prevails; mayonnaise, thought to be a dairy-based product, is not served with meat presented Kosher-style. And it is hugely popular with tourists who flock there to sample 'Montreal smoked meat'.

A Tourism Montreal blog invited readers to "taste Montreal's culinary heritage", listing ten restaurants, six of which are Jewish. Tourism guides always recommend bagels and smoked meat when visiting Montreal. Typically eastern European Jewish foods which 19th Century immigrants to Canada setting in Quebec to flee Central European pogroms brought with them, for nostalgia and comfort. St. Laurent Boulevard, the Main, was the dividing line between the city's anglophone and francophone communities, and it was there that most of the bagelries and delis were established.

Professor Bauer theorizes that the hole in the centre of bagels symbolizes the vacuum in the Jewish diaspora representing the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Others speak of the round shape representing infinity. Bagels are served at circumcision ceremonies for newborn baby boys, and during periods of mourning the death of a Jew. Symbolism galore.

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