What The Heck Is a Bialy?

Back in 2010 I worked for a small cafe outside of Augusta. We sold a mediocre crop of Maine bagels (I specify Maine bagels because they weren’t entirely authentic - i.e. they weren’t boiled before baking.) The bagels were okay… but only okay. Well, except for this peculiar onion and poppy seed bagel that we almost always sold out of. One day a couple from New York came into the cafe, tried one of our “onion bagels” and declared, “This is really more of a bialy than a bagel but it’s delicious!”

“What the heck is a bialy…” I smiled, nodded, and feigned knowledge that I did not actually have. I’m from Maine. My family is a typical (almost cliché) combination of French and Irish. I had no idea what a bialy was but I immediately charged into a google search after the couple had left.

If you’re also from Maine and unfamiliar with bialys, you are not alone (but you are missing out.) Bialys are pure gold. They are perfect. They are my favorite thing ever. I want to name my future child Bialy (just kidding, my kid is going to be named Mordecai… or Jay Z. I haven’t decided yet.)

Anyway, the Yiddish word bialy is actually a shortened form of the original name bialystoker kuchen. According to the (not always reliable but close enough) Google Translate, this means “Bialystok cake”, named after Białystok, Poland where the Ashkenazi Jews first began making this genius creation.

Bialys are similar to bagels. They are made with the same dough but they are not boiled before hand nor are they rolled. Instead they are pressed and stretched creating a slight depression that is traditionally filled with poppy seeds and caramelized onions, then baked. The finished product is glorious.

Bialys are unfortunately very hard to come by, especially outside of New York City. But, guess what? Union Bagel Co. just brought bialys to Portland. That’s right. Prepare to have your mind blown. Bialys are one of the greatest gifts the Ashkenazi Jews’ gave to the world (besides Gilda Radner) and they are sadly under recognized. Let’s change that.


Bialys are a weekend special here at Union Bagel. We recommend having them with cream cheese and lox (or if you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can have it as an egg and cheese sandwich.)


(Thank you, Białystok.)