The Humble NYC Staple Anthony Bourdain Would Have Spent His Last $20 On

While some culinary stars closely guard their secrets and personal time, Anthony Bourdain wasn't above answering questions from fans. In 2016, he took to Reddit and participated in an "Ask Me Anything" thread. Those lucky enough to pose a question and get a thoughtful response included one user who asked how he'd spend his last $20 on food. True to form, Bourdain's answer was strikingly simple and nostalgic: He wouldn't go for a lavish dish or a little-known delicacy. Instead, he would buy a bialy from Barney Greengrass, a New York City mainstay. "It's a pretty good value, maybe I'll have two bialys for $20," he wrote.

His response was not only endearing but also enlightening to those who had never heard of this humble bread. But don't make the mistake of believing a bialy is the same thing as renowned New York bagels. While bagels have become synonymous with New York breakfasts, bialys, their lesser-known cousins, have a charm and history all their own.

Originating from Bialystok, Poland, the bialy (short for "bialystoker kuchen") is a soft, chewy yeast roll. Its defining feature? A depression at the center filled with diced onions and occasionally poppy seeds. Unlike a bagel, which is boiled before being baked, resulting in its characteristic shiny crust and dense interior, a bialy is simply baked. The outcome? A soft, matte finish with an airy interior, juxtaposed against the slight crunch and aromatic allure of its filled center.

Bourdain loved classics like bialys

While Anthony Bourdain had more familiarity with foods around the globe than most, it's not entirely surprising that he chose something closer to home for his AMA answer. Barney Greengrass has been a fixture in New York's gastronomic scene since 1908; while famed for their smoked fish, it's their dedication to preserving traditional recipes, like the bialy, that caught Bourdain's attention. His life was a tapestry of varied food memories, and choosing a bialy from Barney Greengrass was a nod to the timeless classics and the profound impact of seemingly simple foods.

If anything, Bourdain's answer is a reflection of his deep-rooted love for food in its purest form. As he demonstrated time and again in his shows and books, it's not always about the complexity or rarity of a dish, but the emotions and memories it evokes. Whether you're a food enthusiast or a casual eater, Bourdain's choice invites us all to discover — or perhaps rediscover — the beauty of classic foods and to cherish the stories that they bring with them. Just note that should you wish to take inspiration from his choice and visit Barney Greengrass for yourself, you should avoid referring to the bialy as a type of bagel at this famed breakfast spot. On the plus side, you'll also be able to try it out for less than Bourdain's hypothetical last $20 — a half dozen will run you about $12, according to their website.