The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World
By Sheraton, Mimi

How important is an onion-topped roll that is usually served with a schemer of cream cheese? Well, Mimi Sheraton would tell you that it is important enough to travel around the world for seven years.

She started out her journey, with a dozen carefully wrapped American Bialys to ward off the potential translation problems and headed to Bialystok a small Polish town. She was in search of the people who had invented this marvelous bread. Instead of finding these people, she found a city in utter desolation, where massacres, followed by the Holocaust had reduced the number of survivor's form 5,000 to 5.

She traveled to Israel, Paris, Austin, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Miami Beach, Chicago, Scottsdale, Beverly Hills, and New York. Through her investigation she found Pesach Szsemunz, and ex-Bialystoker and bialy baker who some how survived Auschwitz and now lives in Australia. The overriding discovers is that modern day bialys are flaccid as compared to those of the past. They are under cooked and not salty enough. The depression in the center should be dark and crisp while the outer crust should be dark and chewy.

A bialy is the bagel's much overlooked and forgotten cousin. Tender, chewy, and when cooked properly, crispy and brown, topped with onions and poppy seeds with a tucked in depression (not a hole) in the center of each roll.

The books final chapter adapts a recipe for the home cook. The recipe takes five and a half pages. Not that it is that complicated, but Sheraton gives you complete explanation for each step. Now one warning, if you want to make them for breakfast you would have to get up at oh around 3:30.

The people from Bialystok may not have survived, but the bialys do live on, delighting all those who eat them. They are a tribute to endurance of tradition and the power of ones everyday life.


Review by Priscilla Meredith 2003