The bagel with lox is a wholly American food with a muddled and complex history.
According to the “Encyclopedia of Sandwiches,” although popularized in the 1950s due to advances in food industrialization, the sandwich was once only found in New York delis.
Culinary historians agree that bagels originated in Ashkenazi Jewish communities in Poland in the early 17th century and that Eastern European Jewish immigrants brought bagels to America in the early 20th century.
According to Leo Rosten, author of “The Joys of Yiddish,” the first printed mention of bagels in the 1610 “Community Regulations of Cracow” stated that the ringed bread was given to women during childbirth.
This predates the popular lore that a Jewish Viennese baker made a bread roll in the shape of a stirrup (“buegl” in German) out of appreciation for the Polish King John III Sobieski, who saved the city from Turkish invasion in 1683.
The bagel with lox is a symbolic sandwich, which helps pin-point its origins.
According to the article “Soul Food” in the April 2011 edition of Saveur Magazine by Elissa Altman, its ringed shape symbolizes the circle of life, and the lox symbolizes the saltiness of tears.
The word is rooted from the Yiddish word “beygel,” which derives from the German word “beugel,” meaning “ring” or “bracelet,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Maria Balinska, author of “The Bagel: The Surprising History of Modest Bread,” thinks the bagel may have earlier origins. She draws comparison of other ringed and holed breads from around the Mediterranean.
Puglia, Italy has the centuries-old taralli, ring-shaped hard crackers that are dotted with fennel.
There’s also the Roman buccellatum and the Chinese girde nan which, according to travel website Uncornered Market, is an Uighur specialty and bagel-like bread round baked in a tandoor-style clay oven.
Most of these Mediterranean varieties were flavored with seeds and/or paired with a sauce, just like the modern bagel.
A bagel with lox consists of an open-face poppy or sesame bagel topped with a generous smear of plain cream cheese, thinly sliced red onions and capers and lox. According to Merriam-Webster, the word lox stems from the Yiddish word for salmon, “laks.”
Lox is thinly sliced salmon fillet, usually the belly, and cured in a salty brine. Real lox is never smoked.
According to the Saveur Magazine 2008 article, “Lox Lessons” by Dana Bowen, in 1869, the transcontinental railroad started transporting barrels of salted salmon from the Pacific coast to the rest of the country, giving rise to its popularity in New York City, mostly among Eastern European Jewish immigrants who came with an affinity for cured and smoked fish.
In the book “New York Food,” Arthur Schwartz says that the tenements Jews lived in had minimal cooking capacity and pre-cooked food mirrored convenience food — cheap and easy.
But above all, it was pareve, meaning it could be eaten with dairy and didn’t break any kosher laws, like meat.
Thus, it became a staple food.
To try this New York City classic, head to House of Bagels on San Carlos and 11th streets. The chewy bagel, rich cream cheese and silky salmon sandwich is perfect for either breakfast or lunch.