Gina Chersevani has a secret ingredient in the egg creams and bagels at her Union Market soda shop Buffalo & Bergen: New York water. Or rather, something like it. Chersevani tells us she has a special water filter that is meant to mimic New York water.
Chersevani uses it to make seltzer and sodas and serves the “New York water” on tap. The bagels, a recent addition to the menu, are made with New York water by friends who have a bagel company in the Big Apple. They’re sent to Buffalo & Bergen boiled and frozen, and Chersevani bakes them on site.
Chersevani is convinced the New York water makes a better bagel. “There’s no other explanation for it,” she says. “It’s the same dough. Same recipes. Same time. Same oven.The only variable is the water.” She loves the bagels so much that she’s interested in opening a bagel shop here in D.C. (In fact, if you have ideas on locations, she’d like you to tweet at her.)
The question of whether the different water supplies can affect the quality of bagels, or any food or drink for that matter, is a topic Y&H explored extensively in an August cover story about DC Water’s campaign to promote the local H2O as a culinary ingredient worth bragging about.
Local bakers were split: Longtime Washington baker Mark Furstenberg called D.C. water “vile” and said he uses heavy industrial filters for his water. Meanwhile Neighborhood Restaurant Group pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac noticed no difference in any of her recipes when she moved from New York to D.C. more than three years ago.
Food scientist Chris Loss, a professor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., told Y&H that water pH levels and mineral content, particularly calcium and sodium, can affect flavor and texture in foods. “Water is like a sponge,” Loss said. “It picks up lots of other compounds, and those compounds can have flavor.” Hard water, which contains more minerals like calcium and magnesium, tends to produce firmer dough. Soft water produces a softer dough. New York’s water is predominantly soft, while D.C.’s is moderately hard.
So New York bagels may be different. But “better” is a matter of taste. Just don’t tell that to Chersevani.
Photo by Jessica Sidman