Lox didn’t originate in New York City. Nor did bagels. But it was New Yorkers who figured out that putting them together would be a sublime combination.
NPR spoke with journalist Heather Smith about her a long piece on bagels and lox, published last year in the late publication Meatpaper. “These mash-ups are what American does best,” she says. “The cronut and ramen burger — those were also invented in New York. But in those cases, you can trace it back to a specific person. In this case, it seems to have just sprung like Venus from the clamshell. The bagel may just be our greatest triumph. That, or the burger.”
Lox came from Scandinavia, where fishermen mastered the art of preserving salmon in saltwater brine, Smith writes. Bagels were first glimpsed on the silk route in China, and refined in Italy in the 14th century. It is a mystery, as Smith says, when the salty fish and the funny shaped roll were first eaten together. But it happened well before 1950, Smith says, because in the ’50s Jewish immigrants would use the phrase “bagels and lox” as an insult to their friends who had become too Americanized.
It wouldn’t be until the 1960s that preservatives created bagels that stayed fresh for more than a few hours, and engineers created mixers that didn’t tear themselves apart trying to work the dough. By then, the bagel was no longer the food of the homesick. It was American enough that the bombing around the circumference of the city of Haiphong, Vietnam, was described at the Pentagon as the “bagel strategy.”
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