The Smell of Fresh Jewish Bagels Returns to Vilnius


The Bagel Shop, a new kosher food café, opens its doors February 4. The café will prepare kosher food and different traditional sweets according to the rules of Judaism. The Bagel Shop’s main draw will be freshly-baked bagels and bagel sandwiches. Adhering to the strictest rules, the bagels will be made under the supervision of a rabbi versed in kosher food rules.

Bagels are a traditional European Jewish food product often referred to as a “baronka” in Lithuania in the past, and when cooked may be cut in half and made into a sandwich. The book Joy of Yiddish furnishes one version of the origin of the bagel, according to which the recipe for bagels was created in Cracow at the beginning of the 17th century, and that bagels were given then as gifts to women giving birth. The bagel was supposed to symbolize the “wheel of life” because of its roundness. The bagel’s popularity quickly grew and spread to other countries where Jews speaking Yiddish lived, and was quickly adopted in America, where today about five million bagels are baked daily!

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky usually has bagels in Israel and believes the Bagel Shop café will be able to achieve the sort of bagel that existed before and now exists in Lithuania, authentic traditional Jewish bagels. “The most delicious bagels were in my childhood and youth, because we ourselves were young and beautiful. I would like to hear the young people of the LJC remark: what delicious bagels! I inherited Jewish recipes from my mother and on weekends I make traditional luncheons: I boil chicken broth from local chickens and stuff the fish.” The professional attorney doesn’t have a lot of time to make bagels, so she’ll be picking hers up at the café.

Miša Jakobas, the principal of the Vilnius ORT Sholem Aleichem Jewish Gymnasium, recalls his childhood in Telšiai: “There will never again be to kind of bagels I ate every day in my childhood. I remember the hot bagels. That smell, the deliciousness, the crunchiness, and when I used to spread butter on it, it’s indescribable… I used to go every day to Mrs. Samson to buy bagels, even on holidays. Hot and fresh… mmmm. As soon as I got home I had to eat one. Only in New York have I found the same sorts of bagels as in my native Telšiai in 1956. Everything was lost, it all perished. It’s great they’re trying to make them at the community, it’s just that it’s not the same. It’s only improvisation. Jewish food smells delicious, it’s wonderful, but it will never exist again as it was. Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes, it won’t be the same in any case… I know what ingredients need to be used to make teyglakh and imberlakh. I am enchanted by Jewish cooking, it smells so good, it’s juicy, but now those smells are gone and they will never exist again.”

Café director Jurga Nagrockytė is hoping for customers of goodwill who will give the establishment a bit of a break, because they’re still perfecting and working on some of the foods. For the time being the Bagel Shop inside the Lithuanian Jewish Community building in Vilnius will feature a menu offering several kinds of spreads for bagels, including khatsilim made from eggplant, humous from chick-peas and cheese and olives. Bagel contents are also made kosher. The menu will be updated and we won’t fear change or experimentation. Visitors will have the chance to try some very delicious bagel sandwiches. On chilly evenings hot broth with kneydlakh will warm diners’ stomachs and souls. Guests will also get to try the traditional Jewish treats known as teyglakh, imberlakh, khalla and lekakh.

Every cook’s bagels differ in dough and taste. Bakers in New York and London might tell you they bake theirs according to a century-old recipe. Jews of Yiddish background in Tel Aviv also make especially delicious bagels. Real and good bagels can be kept in the freezer and warmed up in the toaster, again becoming crunchy and delicious.

LJC member Liuba Šerienė: “I remember the bagels of my childhood well. After buying them we’d cut them in half at home, warm them up in the toaster and oh wow, they were perfectly delicious. I looking forward to the opening, and I think they will be delicious at the Bagel Shop café as well.” Liuba also still remembers they never had a Sabbath without the braided khalla bread. Café director Jurga has promised to bake khalla bread there in the future, too.

Maša Grodnikienė buys bagels in Vilnius and London. She believes there are secrets to making bagel dough and it is unlikely the café will be able to make perfect bagels. Furthermore, they can’t be too expensive, an important detail for succeeding. She remembers seeing when she was visiting America people hurrying Sunday morning after Sabbath to buy hot bagels for breakfast at home. Maša eats bagels herself and has since childhood, and remembers what her mother used to say. After her aunt passed away, after the funeral her mother placed bagels on the table for lunch, saying everything which is round was appropriate for such an occasion, because roundness is connected with the fullness of life.

The artist Aleksandra Jacovskytė said she’d like to see more traditional Jewish dishes offered at the café, including tzimmes and herring with apple. Asked whether she’d eaten bagels in her childhood, she said black bread with butter, sprinkled with sugar, was her favorite childhood treat. Her mother Lėja didn’t make sweets or pastries, but made delicious paté, a Passover dish of broth with matzoh balls and stuffed fish, or gefilte fish.

The Bagel Shop is a social project now in its third year carried out by members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community and volunteers. The goal of the project is to encourage tolerance and communication between different nationalities and ethnicities. The café is only one of the project’s aims, to create a comfortable, unique atmosphere imbued with tradition for residents of and visitors to Vilnius. The Bagel Shop café is to become a place where people of different ethnicities, age groups and walks of life can come together, meet one another and socialize, and learn about the cultural diversity of the Jewish people.

The Bagel Shop Café will hold a grand opening from 3:00 P.M. till 5:00 P.M. on February 4 at the address Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius. Everyone is invited. For further information, please contact, telephone 867508743, or, or .