Bagel, Bagelery, Smoked Meat and Deli as the Jewish Part of Montreal’s Culinary Heritage (2014)

When it comes to determining what is Montreal’s culinary heritage, two foods are always mentioned: bagels and smoked meat (and the bakery and delis where you can buy or eat them) (King, 2002: 115). However those foods are not Montrealers. They came from Ashkenazi immigrants who brought them to Montreal at the end of the 19th century.

My paper will focus on understanding how these typically East European Jewish foods became, rather quickly, Montreal’s culinary heritage even when Jews are (and always were) only a small minority in Montreal (in 2001, they were 2,6% of the population;) and on explaining what bagels and smoked meat say about Montreal’s complex cultural identities.

First, presenting some facts, I will ask questions such as: 1) What are Montreal bagels, smoked meat and delis? 2) Where are bagel and smoked meat eaten? 3) How much do bagels and smoked meat cost? And I will provide answers such as: 1) Montreal’s smoked meat results from the encounter of Canadian beef and Ashkenazi way to serve it. 2) Most of Montreal’s delis are on or close to Boulevard Saint-Laurent which has two interesting features: starting in the Old Port, it was the street by which immigrants entered in Montreal; and it marked the border between French and English parts of Montreal (Balinska, 2008: 182). 3) For a long time, delis were the cheapest way to nourish yourself, which was really important for workers especially in the garment trade (Sax, 2009: 201).

Second, I will deal with representations, especially about heritage and identities. On one hand, I will ask: What roles bagels and smoked meat play in Jewish identity? The bagel’s round shape is a piece of Jewish theology (Anctil, 1997: 165) and its hole a piece of Jewish history. But also how do bagels, smoked meat and delis being part of Montreal’s culinary heritage impact Jewish identity? As the bagel, and the smoked meat became Montrealer, Ashkenazi identity became a Montrealer Jewish identity (Harris, 2009: §6). On the other hand, I will ask: what roles bagels, smoked meat, bakeries, and delis play in Montreal identities? Bakery and delis are old enough to be part of its rare heritage (Bellerose, 2011). But also are Montrealers what they eat? Do they embody an edible Jewish identity? During the 20th century, it looks like eating bagels and smoked meat was not enough to become Jew-friendly (Anctil, 1988: 158).

Bauer, O (2014, October 24). “Bagel, Bagelry, Smoked Meat and Deli as the Jewish Part of Montreal’s Culinary Heritage.” Paper presented at the Food Heritage, Hybridity & Locality: An International Conference, American Studies Department, Brown University; Department of Anthropology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong UNESCO Chair Project on Safeguarding and Promoting Cultural Food Heritage, University of Tours RI Historical Society, October 23, 2014.

  • You can find the paper on
  • Here are the views of my lecture.

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