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What Is Bialy?

By J. Airman
Updated May 16, 2024
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A bialy is a shaped leavened bread roll that originated in Poland. It is usually shaped somewhat like a bagel, but with an indentation instead of a hole; it can also be shaped into a figure-eight, with two indentations. The indentations are generally filled with savory foods like onion or garlic flakes. A traditional bialy has one indentation that is covered in minced onion and oil. The flavor coated, flattened dent in the bread creates a crunchy and potently flavored area in the middle of a soft and doughy outer crust.

Often favored over the bagel for its more delicate texture, this dish is made by shaping, flavoring and baking a dough ball. The name for the dough ball that is formed into a bialy is tagel. To prepare the bialy, an indentation is pressed into a lightly flattened tagel. The indentation in the bialy is called the kuchen.

After the kuchen is pressed into the dough, the indentation is coated with the chosen vegetables, herbs and oil, then baked. Common types of oil include olive or canola. Though they are traditionally made with a thin coating of vegetables, the range of toppings put on this bread is as wide as those put on a bagel. Toppings can include things like cream cheese, lox and roast beef, but many people prefer a simple spread of butter on their morning bialy.

This food is considered to be a form of pletzel, a flattened, cracker-like crust covered in toppings. Unlike most pletzels, the bialy dough is leavened, making it fluffy and chewy rather than flat and crunchy. While a pletzel has a flat crust like a pizza, a bialy is more like a tiny pizza encircled with a baked bagel. This dish originated in Bialystok, Poland, but has become a highly popular dish in the state of New York. It is particularly popular in the Coney Island neighborhood of New York City.

Though it resembles a bagel in shape, this bread is usually lighter than the traditional New York bagel. Some prefer bialies to bagels because they are softer and less chewy. In New York, bialies are commonly sold by bakers who also make bagels.

Most of the time, it is difficult to find bialies in the United States outside of New York. Since bialies do not stay fresh long, they cannot be shipped or sold commercially. A bialy is best eaten within six hours of being made, after which it goes stale.

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Discussion Comments

By anon989069 — On Feb 17, 2015

Today I bought a pepperoni and cheese bialy from a Whole Foods in Dallas.

It tasted a lot like a doughy bagel and, except for not having a hole in the middle, it looked like one, too.

I have no clue how authentic a bialy it was, this having been my first bialy experience, but interested persons might check out their Whole Foods for one if they're not in a bialy hot-spot like New York City.

By strawCake — On Feb 14, 2012

Bialys sure have a short shelf life. I can't believe they go stale only 6 hours after they're been made! This must make life kind of difficult for a bakery that sells bialys. If you don't get it down to an exact science, you could end up making too many bialys, and having to throw a lot of them out if they don't sell!

Also, bakers and other companies are probably missing out on money because they can't ship bialys other places to sell. I think there would probably be a big market for them if this were possible.

By JessicaLynn — On Feb 14, 2012

@Monika - I don't live in New York City either, but now that I've heard of a bialy, that's not going to stop me. I don't see why it should stop you either! I plan to find a bialys recipe and try to make one at home. I doubt it would be that difficult.

I'm really excited about this breakfast food, because I find a lot of breakfast foods to be way too sweet. I do not need to start my day off with a bunch of sugar, thank you! However, the pastry that you can top with olive oil and vegetables sounds perfect. Healthy and probably tasty too!

By Monika — On Feb 13, 2012

Unfortunately, I don't live in New York City, so I have never heard of a bialy. It sounds delicious though. I love bagels and pastries, and the bialy sounds perfect. It seems like there are a lot of options for making bialys with different kinds of topping (much like a bagel.)

I don't go to New York that often, but next time I do, I'm going to keep my eye out for a bakery that serves these. I love trying new foods, especially foods I'm sure I'm going to like.

By myharley — On Feb 13, 2012

@LisaLou - I have lived in New York most of my life and often don't realize how fortunate we are to have such a variety of unique snacks and foods to choose from.

My sister is from the Midwest, and when she came to visit me, she tried a bialy for the first time. This was something she had never even heard of before, but it only took once and she was hooked on them.

When she got home she went online and found a bialy recipe and has made them several times. Once when I was visiting her, she made them for me, and I must say, they were outstanding!

I don't spend much time in the kitchen, so have never gone to the trouble of making them myself. All I have to do is visit my neighborhood bakery to treat myself to a fresh bialy.

By LisaLou — On Feb 12, 2012

I live in New York, and there is a bakery just outside my office that sells bialies and bialy bread. Until I started stopping at this bakery I had no idea what these were.

If you like bagels, you would enjoy eating a bialy. They are definitely not as chewy as a bagel and have a lighter texture to them.

My favorite way of eating them is the traditional way with olive oil and some garlic or onion flakes. I have also had them with some Parmesan cheese, and these were very good as well.

Once in awhile I like them plain with some strawberry flavored cream cheese on them, but I have never eaten one that did not taste delicious.

In fact, I find that I prefer eating a bialy over a bagel and feel bad that they are not found in most places of the United States. They are the perfect start to my morning along with a cup of coffee.

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