There are those New York foods that everybody knows about: pizza, bagels and hot dogs. Then there are those that aren’t as well-known, such as knishes or the legendary hot dog/papaya juice combo. And there are those that are even less known, yet still undeniably New York, such as the bialy. The bialy is a cousin of the bagel, yet fluffier and instead of a hole, it features a depression filled with sweet onions. It was originally brought to New York by Jewish immigrants from the town of Bialystok, Poland. While they aren’t nearly as well-known as bagels, they have a fiercely loyal cult following.
In recent years, a new crop of culinary mavens have revived interest in traditional New York Jewish cuisine. New Jewish delis began springing up, such as Shelsky’s and Mile End, in addition to modern bagel boutiques. While bagels were one of the main focuses here, the bialy was mostly forgotten. Yet bialys are delicious, and its slender profile make for more balanced sandwiches. The bialy has many benefits: they’re crusty and chewy, but nonetheless soft and piant. The depth of flavor in the onions can’t be underestimated either. Bialys are part of the tradition of Jewish onion breads, which evolved among impoverished European Jews that needed to make good-tasting food out of limited ingredients. The bialy fans of today have been trying to revive interest in onion breads, specifically the bialy.
One of the oldest bialy spots in New York is Kossar’s in the Lower East Side, which has been open since 1939. In 2013, it was purchased by a group of bialy fans who were interested in reviving interest in this unique type of food. The Jewish community of Bialystok, who developed the bialy, is since gone, having either emigrated or been wiped out by the Holocaust. In New York, this culinary tradition has been able to live on, but it was at risk of becoming extinct. By the turn of the millennium, the oldest bialy bakery in the city closed and Kossar’s was in decline, but in the mid-2000s the Hot Bread Kitchen made it their mission to revive the bread, and began selling them by the truckload at the New Amsterdam market. Since then, other bakeries, old and new, have been joining in on the action.