The key to Montreal bagels, bakers from the Canadian city will tell you, is wood-burning ovens. Montreal bagels are distinctive from their New York and Jerusalem counterparts: They are denser and thinner. And, specifically, they are “wood-fired.”
This may be no more.
Jean-François Parenteau, a Montreal politician who currently serves on the Montreal Executive Committee, is set on ending harmful air pollution in the city. Parenteau passed a new bylaw in early October that focused on wood-burning commercial establishments in the city. If these establishments — including beloved bagel shops, Italian pizzerias, and others — cannot decrease their harmful emissions, they would be forced to switch their wood-burning ovens to gas or electric.
Parenteau has said he believes Montreal’s famous bagels will not be impacted. “I know that you can bake bagels with gas,” he told The Montreal Gazette. “I know I could do tests with citizens and nobody would be able to tell the difference between a bagel cooked over a gas fire or a wood fire. I’m certain.” He also notes that two “iconic and high-production bagel producers” in Montreal — St-Viateur Bagel and Fairmont Bagel, two bagel places included on our guide to the best Jewish food in Montreal — have “indicated in the past that wood-burning is not essential to their production and would not change the product.”
But does this mean they *want* to move away from tradition?
Joseph Rosen, reporting for The Globe and Mail, went to Fairmont Bagel to ask the owner, Yitzhak Nissan Shlafman, about the proposed changes. Shlafman told The Globe and Mail that he “will switch to gas if he has to — and if the other bagel bakeries do it at the same time,” but fire lends character to the bagels that isn’t easily replicable. “Everybody who works here is an artist!” Shlafman said, referring to the art of bagel baking.
It is confusing why Parenteau and the Montreal city hall are focusing on wood-burning establishments when air pollution is caused much more by cars, residential homes, and industrial establishments.
However, a city hall representative told The Globe and Mail, “We are not planning on banning the wood-burning oven. … We will not rush any measure that would harm these Montreal landmark[s] because we know that Montrealers are attached to these restaurants.”
Fingers crossed we don’t lose the Montreal bagel anytime soon.