Sold on the streets of one of the world’s holiest cities, the Jerusalem bagel is an oblong-shaped bread about the length of an average forearm. Topped with sesame seeds (no “jalapeño-cheese” variations here), these bagels aren’t boiled and contain fewer ingredients than their counterparts. And while they look like a funhouse mirror reflection of the Western-world bagel, they bear very little relation.
Though not much is known about the origin of the Jerusalem bagel, some speculate that it rose to prominence following the 1967 Six Day War, which re-granted Israelis access to the Old City and its holy sites. As people visited Jerusalem, they discovered vendors peddling this oddly shaped bread, which may have originally been the Arabic ka’ak bread ring and, in time, became known as the Jerusalem bagel.
Jerusalem bagels typically aren't eaten with schmear. At first this might seem like a shonda, but don’t start kvetching until you’ve tried a Jerusalem bagel with olive oil and za’atar, the Middle Eastern spice made of sesame seeds, sumac and other herbs.
Pico-Robertson’s Bibi’s Café and Bakery has been serving fresh Jerusalem bagels since 2002, along with other Israeli staples such as shakshuka, bourekas and different varieties of challah, nestled alongside other Jewish eateries in what's known as L.A.'s "Kosher Corridor."
Known for its take on the Jerusalem bagel, Bibi's bakery sells about 150 a week, according to owner Dan Messinger, plus hundreds more to supply local restaurants. On Fridays, there’s often a line out the door as locals prepare for Shabbat, and the Jerusalem bagels often sell out by 1 p.m.
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Getting to work on a batch means making the dough, letting it rest, then portioning it out by hand. The portions are shaped into football-sized ovals, dipped in water, sprinkled in sesame and placed into a hot oven to rise. Once the bagels are ready for the window, they are sold as is, like on the ancient pathways of the Old City, or as enormously filling sandwiches called Jerusalem Toasties. Cut lengthwise and spread with house-made garlic and hot sauce, then piled with green and black olives, mushrooms, jalapeños, feta and mozzarella, the hot, crispy sandwich is like a Middle Eastern bagel-panino.
Bibi’s Café and Bakery, 8928 W. Pico Blvd., Pico-Robertson, (310) 246-1788, bibisbakerycafe.com.