The Rise of Bagels in Cape Town

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The Rise of Bagels in Cape Town

A look at the new holey roll revolution sweeping the Mother City

The bagel is not new to Cape Town. The storied roll-with-a-hole has long been an order option at a number of local restaurants, and you’d likely be hard-pressed to find an inner-city dweller that hasn’t, at the very least, heard of this doughy delight.

But what is new is the way in which the favourite American snack has rolled right into the limelight in the Mother City of late. That is, what was, for decades, just one inconspicuous item on offer at cafés has now become the dedicated focus of various eateries, and the August 2014 opening of hole-in-the-wall Bree Street bar Max Bagels and October 2014 re-launch of long-time institution New York Bagels in the trendy area of District Six (it was based in Sea Point for years) are the most recent cases in point.

“It was time for us to raise our hands for the bagel and give it its due,” says Matthew Freemantle, co-founder of the former. “It’s been out of the spotlight for too long, and the reality is, it’s good enough to sell a whole menu on.”

Part of his theory about why this product has never taken hold here like it has in New York and other international cities revolves around the roll’s status as a beloved, historic food. There are numerous century-old traditions and ‘rules’ surrounding the proper way to bake and boil a bagel – it’s an art that dates back to the 1600s – and in the past, local bakeries just haven’t perfected it. But the recent rise of the artisan bread maker has changed things – suddenly, young culinary crafters in Cape Town have started to go back to basics and experiment with time-honoured methods, and thus, the bagel has benefited considerably.

Bernard Milner, the current owner of the new New York Bagels outlet in Harrington Street, agrees with this argument: “Bagels have definitely become more popular now than ever before, and it’s probably got to do with the trend towards hand-crafting things and the fact that they are being made more carefully than in previous years.”

Of course, Capetonians of contemporary times jump on anything artisan (or slightly non-mainstream) and we’re also growing more and more picky about the quality of the food we put in our bodies. One area in which this is very evident is with regards to takeaway fare. The proliferation of food trucks and markets in the Mother City has introduced residents to the idea of on-the-go snacks that shrug off the greasy fast food stigma and are instead fresh and tasty, and bagels fall into this bracket.

They’re a quick, convenient option, so they’re ideal lunch bites in the midst of a busy schedule, but they’re also freshly baked daily and absolutely delicious. When made right, the crust is beautifully crisp and sweet, the interior is soft and chewy and the fillings are generous and moreish: the abovementioned cafés pack the ring-shaped rolls with combinations like smoked trout, cream cheese, capers and red onions; salt beef, pickles and mustard; smoked chicken and coleslaw; scrambled egg and bacon; and hummus and grilled vegetables.

It’s also promising that the little eateries that are opening up are not looking to compete with each other, but rather are eager to each play a collaborative role in cultivating a bagel culture in Cape Town.

“There was a time when you couldn’t find a good bagel here; if there comes a time when you can’t find a bad one, we’ll be very happy,” says Matthew, speaking on behalf of himself and his business partner Andrew Kai.

And we have to admit, if this movement is paving the way for purveyors of thick, doughy salmon and cream cheese delights to start rising on almost every corner, we’ll be exceptionally happy too.

Max Bagels:
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 7am – 4pm; Saturday: 8am – 2pm
Bagel price range: R22 – R45
120 Bree Street | City Centre | Cape Town | +27 (0)76 042 0224

New York Bagels:
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 7am – 4pm; Saturday: 8am – 2pm (soon to open on Sundays too)
Bagel price range: R12 – R45
44 Harrington Street | District Six | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 820 4359


A fan of other bready products too? Have a look at our guide to top bakeries in Cape Town.


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