There's no wrong answer, just difference of opinion - and obviously, tastebuds.
So, who wins in the faceoff between New York-style and Montreal-style bagel?
There are a quite a few factors at play here, including cooking methods, size, texture, ingredients, and varieties. Let's dig into some history before we begin.
The bagel traces its origins in the Jewish communities of Poland, namely from 17th-century communities. It is unclear exactly when bagels first made their way to the United States, but by 1900 there were at least 70 known bakeries on the Lower East side selling these popular "rolls with a hole."
In 1907, the International Beigel Bakers' Union was formed, and from there a bagel monopoly was in place. With many immigrants flocking to the East Coast from Eastern Europe during that time, there was a huge demand for the foods of their country, sparking the New York bagel craze. This may also be why we see such Eastern European influences, including pumpernickel, rye, and challah bagels. The Jewish community kept growing after World War II and with it, so did the popularity of their culinary traditions. The bagel's popularity only continued to expand throughout the years, making it's way to Montreal and sparking the Great Debate: which style is better?
Today, bagels are known across North America as a popular bread product, not only in cities with a large Jewish population. Chains and independent bakeries capitalize on this "roll with a hole," and generations of Americans have never known another way to start their morning.
There is one similarity, however, and that is how a bagel is made. Both styles are boiled before they are baked to create a thick, shiny, chewy exterior that makes a bagel a bagel and not a doughnut. But what makes a New York style bagel made in New York better than a New York style bagel made in say, Minneapolis?
Many people claim it's the water.
New Yorkers swear by the NYC water as the main (inimitable) ingredient in these soft, chewy, doughy rings of heaven (even though this has been thoroughly debunked as a myth, the legend lives on).
The Montreal style bagels, on the other hand, are boiled in water that has been sweetened with honey - a defining characteristic of this style of bagel. After boiling, a Montreal-style bagel is then placed into a wood-burning oven where it turns extra crispy and delicious.
The boiling process gives the Montreal-style bagel a distinct char and an almost caramelized crunch that lends itself nicely to the denser, doughy interior. These bagels, on the whole, are moderately smaller than their American counterpart and a little thinner, with a much larger hole in the middle (making it almost half negative space, so order two!)
A New York-style bagel is quite large - though there is no "exact" size - and doughier than a Montreal style. When toasted, expect to find crunchiness on the outside and a thick layer of doughy goodness on the inside.
Regarding ingredients, both styles of bagels are quite simple. For a New York-style bagel it comes down to salt and malt, a simple and yet beautiful marriage of ingredients. The NY water, infused with low concentrations of calcium carbonate and magnesium, also plays a huge factor in bagel quality, as these chemicals have a reaction that makes a bagel more puffy and aerated.
As mentioned above, a Montreal-style bagel includes the addition of honey in the water, as well as in the dough. It also includes a more generous helping of eggs and - if you've ever tasted one - a more obvious lack of salt. This gives it a sweeter taste than a New York-style bagel.
In this instance, Montreal bagels can be thought of as the purist cousin of New York-style bagels. Many people argue that they are only considered "Montreal bagels" if they are topped with sesame or poppy seeds (otherwise referred to as "black seed" and "white seed" bagels.)
New York-style bagels have more varieties than we can count on our fingers and toes. There's everything, plain, poppyseed, cinnamon raisin, chocolate chip, pumpernickel, blueberry, egg, garlic, and pretty much anything under the sun. This is, perhaps, what makes going into a New York bagel shop so fun. And with a plethora of available toppings, you can have a different breakfast every day of the week! It's also why you've probably never heard anyone say they don't like New York-style bagels - there's an option for everyone!
Unlike a New York-style bagel, a Montreal-style bagel is not typically meant for slicing. As most Montrealers know, you don't slice and toast, but instead, dip the bagel in cream cheese or simply eat it plain. In fact, ordering a bagel topped with anything in Montreal is plain weird. If you want to top it, you should probably just arrange it yourself. In private.
A New York-style bagel is very much meant for topping. Larger and more doughy than its friendly neighbor, the smaller hole in the middle gives this bagel more surface area for nice spreadable cheese. Some people argue that the purity of a Montreal-style bagel speaks to its superiority. We say you be the judge.
We don't have a specific answer on that one. Yet. Many people argue that the Montreal-style is the purest form of bagel, though the addition of honey and a larger concentration of eggs have some people disagreeing. New Yorkers argue that the breadth and depth a New York-style bagel - along with the NY water - make their bagels the best of the best. And while it is true that a New York-style bagel has the versatility to be made into a sandwich, pizza, and even a sweet treat, we can't argue with Montrealers in the sense that this is probably the purest form of a traditional Jewish bagel.