The very last page of SAVEUR is always a treat. Each issue ends with an image depicting a moment in food history. December's issue closed with a photo of a Jewish bagel vendor taken sometime in the late 1800s in Kishinev (now Moldova).
Everything about this photo drew me in: the man's cap and traditional full beard, his large handwoven basket, his simple leather boots, even the iron gate in the background. Such an uncomplicated photo, but to me it captures a complex time in history, religion, food culture and community. This is an image of a tradesman. Most likely he was not a wealthy man such as his fellow butcher, but none-the-less, peddling the humble circles of boiled dough surely kept other food on his family's table.
Reading more, I learned that observant Jewish households traditionally made bagels at the end of each Sabbath. Because cooking and baking are restricted during observance, bagels represented a quick alternative to other types of bread, easily made at the conclusion of Sabbath.
Today, bagels are often served at Jewish events due to the spiritual representation of their shape. The circle is believed to affirm wholeness and "ward off the evil eye."
I'm not exactly sure what it is, but I would have liked to have purchased a bagel from the man in this photo, and perhaps known a bit more about his life. I wonder what kind of tea he drank and out of what kind of cup? What his home looked like? Who he confided in, and who repaired his shoes?
Another fine example of how simple fare such as a basket full of bagels once represented more than just something to eat, it represented an intriguing individual's livelihood long since passed.
*Photo featured in SAVEUR December 2010 issue. Photographer unknown. Image provided by Yivo Institute for Jewish Research.