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New York-Style Bagels Are Making It Big in London

“What’s an ‘everything bagel?’”

It’s a question that Georgia Fenwick-Gomez, a co-owner of Papo’s Bagels in the East London neighborhood of Dalston, hears a lot, as customers stare blankly at a menu with words including “schmear,” “scallion” and “lox.”

Papo’s is part of a wave of new shops in Britain selling New York-style bagels, distinct for being bigger, doughier and more heavily seasoned than their London counterparts. The shops have prompted both curiosity and innovation, adding to London’s long history of bagels — or “beigels,” as they were originally known here.

Many of the new shops have similar stories: During the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, homesick New Yorkers in London started experimenting with bagel baking at home. Ms. Fenwick-Gomez and Gabriel “Papo” Gomez, the other co-owner of Papo’s, moved to England from New York in 2018. Once the pandemic hit, Mr. Gomez, missing New York and dreaming of bagels, started watching bagel-making videos on YouTube and testing out recipes.

Another bagel connoisseur, Francesca Goldhill, of London, spent hours in her mother’s kitchen trying to find a recipe that produced bagels similar to those from Brooklyn Bagel, her favorite when she lived in New York. She opened Bagels + Schmear in Hertfordshire, outside London, in 2022.

Dan Martensen, a former New Yorker, opened It’s Bagels! in Primrose Hill last year, after experimenting in his kitchen during the pandemic to try to satisfy his cravings for a bagel that reminded him of home, with a “crusty, flavorful shell and a pillowy inside.”

As Mr. Martensen discovered soon after opening It’s Bagels!, recreating a New York bagel shop in London is about more than just the bagels themselves. He encourages his staff to shout orders across the shop, something that does not come naturally to British employees, he said.

“I say, ‘Come on guys, shout!’” he said. “I want to keep it true to New York, but it’s really hard.”

Mr. Martensen said he delights in translating words on the menu for customers, like “scallions” (“spring onions” in British English) and “lox.” On weekends, lines for It’s Bagels! stretch around the block twice over, with up to 150 people in line.

Other bagel shops that expanded or opened recently in Britain include The Good Bagel, Paulie’s Bagels, Lincoln Bagel Co. and B Bagels.

Many consider the birthplace of the bagel to be Poland. The first written reference to the bagel may have been in 1610, in a document by the Jewish Council of Krakow, said Maria Balinska, author of “The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread.” But bagels were likely popular long before then, arriving with immigrants from Germany to Poland in the 14th century, she said.

Bagels were brought to London in the 1800s by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, who called them “beigels,” (pronounced BYE-guls) a variation that reflects a regional differentiation in the pronunciation of the Yiddish word “beygl,” said Eddy Portnoy, an academic adviser at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

Between 1881 and 1914, the Jewish population in London’s East End tripled, and bagels were peddled in the East London streets of Petticoat Lane and Brick Lane, and in the nearby neighborhood of Whitechapel, Ms. Balinska said.

Today, the Brick Lane neighborhood of East London is home to the largest Bangladeshi community in Britain. But some bagel shops remain, using “beigel” on signs and menus. That includes two of London’s most beloved bagel bakeries, the 24-hour Beigel Bake and Beigel Shop — though the Beigel Shop was closed in February. It is unclear if or when the shop will reopen.

One of the oldest family-run Jewish bakeries in London, Rinkoff Bakery in Whitechapel, was established in 1911 by Hyman Rinkoff, who immigrated from Odesa, Ukraine. Jennifer Rinkoff, the head of marketing for the bakery, said she used to correct customers who said “bagel” instead of “beigel,” but now she finds herself using the American pronunciation. “We’ve kind of given up because everyone says ‘bagel,’” she said.

She said she has kept an eye on the popularity of the new New York-style bagel shops, which she heard about through friends and on social media. While Rinkoff’s uses mostly family recipes, including original ones from her great-grandfather, she updated Rinkoff’s bagel recipe in October to make their bagels doughier and more like New York-style bagels.

Around the world, bagel recipes have been modified to incorporate local ingredients, tastes and cooking methods. In Montreal, bagels are boiled in honey-infused water before being baked. In Jerusalem, bagels tend to be softer and less chewy than those in New York. In Seoul, a shop called the London Bagel Museum sells bagels with truffle cream cheese.

In Newcastle, in northern England, Joss Elder co-founded a New York-style shop, King Baby Bagels in 2021, after falling in love with bagels on a vacation in New York City. To cater to local tastes, Mr. Elder created a bagel topped with ham, mustard, pickles and pease pudding, a traditional Newcastle spread made with yellow split peas. He said he has had a fair share of customers who had never heard of bagels. “We still get a lot of funny looks when people walk past our shop,” he said.

Plenty of Londoners say they prefer London bagels to New York ones. Peyman Hakimi, the owner of Daniel’s Bagel Bakery, a traditional kosher bakery in North London, said his bakery had benefited from bagels becoming increasingly fashionable, even as he has noticed more shoppers avoiding white bread and pastries.

Ms. Goldhill, who sells her bagels out of the London department store Fortnum & Mason and from her shop in Hertfordshire, said she preferred New York bagels to London ones, but added that bagels are “such a personal thing.”

“It’s very much a debate between ‘beigel’ and ‘bagel,’” she added. She regularly encounters curious customers who ask her to explain ‘everything bagels,’ a New York concept and her best seller. “I can’t tell you how many times I say, ‘sesame, black sesame, poppy, garlic, onion and salt’ — it literally just comes off the tip of my tongue now.”

Mr. Gomez, who opened Papo’s in 2021, said it may be impossible to recreate New York bagels outside New York. His shop uses what he calls “New York swagger” — a reference to both New York baking techniques and New York attitude — but his bagels are not quite New York bagels, whether it’s because of the different tap water in London or something inexplicable that doesn’t quite translate across the pond.

All the same, they are now part of London’s long history of absorbing different recipes and cuisines. And who said they needed to be perfect replicas to be delicious?