Unlike the bagel - which most everybody at least thinks they've seen lately - the bialy is pratically unheard of outside greater NYC. But even within the city, I haven't actually seen a convincing bialy in recent memory. This is a complete mystery to me. What has happened? Before I get into that, though - perhaps a brief explanation in case there's anyone who wants to know what I'm talking about.
From Mirriam Webster:
bialy, (n): Yiddish, short for bialystoker, from bialystoker of Bialystok, city in Poland
: a flat breakfast roll that has a depressed center and is usually covered with onion flakes
This is a thoroughly inadequate definition, but it's a place to start.
I take no exception with the suggested derivation, nor with the morphology, usual meal of consumption or vegetable garnish. Hmm - that doesn't leave much to quibble with then does it? ON THE CONTRARY! That word 'roll' - it suggests all that is wrong with most present day pretenders to bialydom. I admit, the word roll covers a lot of ground and I suppose one could rationalize its use - but it leads us down the wrong path and is best avoided. For example, a roll might contain egg in the batter and thus be somewhat yellow. Bialys are not yellow. Put another way - if that thing you're looking at or holding is yellow - it is not a bialy no matter what the store or manufacturer may claim. Take it from me - I'm obsessed...I am noshstalgic. Well then, what better word? (I'd be grateful for suggestions).
A bialy is dry. Really dry. They are generally dusted with flour that remains beyond baking, and assures, should there be an errant molecule of would-be moisture nearby, complete dryness. Bialys, when sliced and toasted, have irregular holes and fissures in their structure. The dough surrounding some such bubbles can be very thin. When toasted, these create edges that can lacerate the unwary. A bialy is not dense throughout, nor even primarily (which observation gives rise to one of my numerous objections to the product from Kossar's (who seem to be nice people and emphatically claim to make them as they used to since 1936)). I have no idea if the Kossar's Biali of 1936 resembled the 6 in a bag I got at Zabar's two weeks ago, but if it did, then I would not have been buying them from Kossar's back when. But I digress...
A bialy is oniony - but not throughout. The onion is confined to the dimple (thumb depression) in the middle - and somehow its influence is (while present) very attenuated beyond the immediate center. It's a subtle onion effect. Perhaps the dryness contributes to the extreme inertness of the onion flavor?
Now this next observation (as distinct from my usual) is a matter of opinion, but: As I remember them from my youth, the bialy seemed custom made for sable. Not lox, not sturgeon, - sable.
Now in recent attempts to enjoy a bialy, I have purchased product from various bagel makers (at one time a reasonable strategy as the bagel people were also often capable bialy people), I have tried the Kossar's product, and I bought some larger, fancier product from Zabar's. Some of these offerings have been pleasant flat breakfast rolls with depressed centers and covered with onion flakes (and occasionally things like poppy seeds) to paraphrase Mirriam Webster - but sadly, none has been a bialy. Which do you suppose came first? The non-bialy bialy, or the non-definition definition?
Does anyone know where I can find a real bialy like they used to be? I'll bring the sable.