Montreal tradition finally rises in Toronto

Diana Zlomislic, Living Reporter

A delicious tradition rooted in 19th-century Eastern Europe and popularized by Montreal’s Jewish bakeries for decades is finally coming to Toronto.

Tomorrow, residents at Avenue and Lawrence — home to Pusateri’s fine foods and the city’s sexiest heels at Zola — will be spoiled yet again with Toronto’s first 24-hour bagelry, where hand-rolled bagels boiled in honey water and toasted in a massive wood-burning oven will be available round the clock.

While pizza arguably holds reign as this town’s tastiest midnight snack, note there have been few other options as hot and affordable at 3 a.m.

Sat Chouhan, 40, and Jessi Sahdra, 42, partners in The Bagel House have been dreaming of a 24-hour shop since opening their first store in 1999. Born in India, the bakers honed their techniques at iconic Jewish bagelries like St. Viateur and Fairmount during the ’80s and ’90s in Montreal, where it’s easy to find a freshly baked ring of dough at any hour.

In Poland during the late 19th century, the humble bread brought people together almost every night of the week barring the Sabbath, of course, says Maria Balinska, London-based author of The Bagel: A Cultural History (Yale University Press), due in stores this fall. Town folk, she says, would line up late in the evening outside the bakeries waiting for hot bagels by the dozen.

Today, Chouhan and Sahra’s secret to success is simple. Flour, water, eggs, oil, malt and sugar.

And “never salt the dough,” warns Chouhan, who chastises the typical Toronto bagel as “bread with a hole.” The beauty of a Montreal bagel — crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside — is its density and a slight sweetness that tempts one to lick it like a soft, round lollypop before the first bite.

Whether it’ll satiate bleary-eyed clubbers on their way home from the Entertainment District, we’ll find out this weekend.