While many cultures claim credit for inventing the bagel, the basic roll-with-a-hole concept is centuries old, Joan Nathan writes in a look at the ubiquitous morning nosh for Slate. The Romans, Egyptians, and Europeans are all said to have savored this culinary curiosity, which was easy to transport and had “the advantage of lasting longer than freshly baked bread.”
Jewish immigrants popularized bagels in the US in the early 1900s, and after World War II, the bagel went from specialty food to supermarket mainstay. Nathan attributes some of the bagel’s success to the fact that it’s never been marketed as an ethnic food to meat-and-potatoes Americans. Indeed, she notes, New York’s best bagel bakery (arguably) isn’t Jewish—it’s run by a Thai couple.