Which city in North America makes the best rye bread? The question was contemplated earlier this year at the New York-based Jewish website Tablet.
“Winnipeg has the best and most authentic Jewish rye bread in the world,” someone on their staff said. That prompted the editor to reach out to me to ask: What makes it so special?
I’m not Jewish. But I like rye bread. I agreed to find out.
Unlike rye breads in eastern Canada and the U.S., those who know about the making of rye bread say Winnipeg-style rye bread is lighter in colour and milder in flavour than other rye breads.
It doesn’t contain much, if any, rye flour. Instead, it is made from cracked rye or coarse rye meal.
It is also made differently from eastern rye bread, said Fivie Gunn, the former owner of Gunn’s bakery in Winnipeg.
“It uses chopped or flaked rye, making it sort of speckled,” he said, adding it is lighter and has a milder flavour, “not a sour taste like out east.”
It’s also made mostly with white flour and with no caraway seeds, he said, making it smoother and softer.
“It’s quite tasty and unique,” Gunn said.
Gunn thinks Winnipeg’s rye bread originated with immigrants who came to the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from Ukraine.
“They brought their kind of bread with them,” he said, noting that as you head further west into Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, the style of rye bread changes again. “It’s heavier,” he said. “Winnipeg rye bread is unique.”
Ross Einfeld is part owner and production manager at Kub Bakery, another favorite for many when it comes to rye bread.
He also traces Winnipeg’s unique rye bread to immigrants from Ukraine over 100 years ago.
“Our bread is based on their recipe,” he said, adding that for him City, Gunn’s and Kub make the best rye bread in Winnipeg because they bake it on a paddle in a hearth with steam to give a chewy coating.
“It’s crusty all the way around, not like bread made in a pan,” he said. “It’s chewy outside and moist inside.”
When it comes to personal preferences, members of the Winnipeg Jewish community have their own favourite bakeries.
Belle Jarniewski, executive director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, prefers the version made by City Bread.
“I remember going to the old City Bread location with my mom and dad every other week to stock up. My mom would come out with a shopping bag filled with fresh rye bread and she would freeze whatever we couldn’t eat right away.”
Elaine Goldstine, CEO of the Winnipeg Jewish Federation, also liked rye bread from City Bakery.
“I know that rye bread at Gunn’s and City bread are different,” she said, indicating her preference is for City Bread rye bread.
As for the city’s reputation for rye bread, “I guess it is famous like Winnipeg goldeye is famous,” she added about the Manitoba fish that is well-known outside the province.
Bernie Bellam is editor of Winnipeg’s Jewish Post and News. “To my mind City Bread is by far the best with Gunn’s second,” he said. “It’s really a question of acquired taste, I would say.”
Alan Green, former rabbi at Winnipeg’s Shaarey Zedek synagogue, was more of Gunn’s Bakery fan when he lived in the city. Now that he lives in Fairfield, Iowa, he has fond memories of Winnipeg’s rye bread.
“I certainly understand how a good bakery—particularly a bread bakery—can make one feel at home and rooted in a city or community,” he said.
Becky Kaufmann moved from Winnipeg to Toronto recently. She, too, has good memories of that city’s rye bread.
For Kaufmann, the best is City Bread, followed by Gunn’s; she’s heard of ex-Winnipeggers ordering bread from local bakeries and having it shipped to them.
“Jews are very particular about their likes,” she said, including rye bread. “We’re loyal!”