When looking up Lox or the history of Lox for this blog article, what came up along side the search, time and time again were these few key words; bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon and Jewish Traditional Food. If you are a Montrealer you are not surprised at all. Apparently our love affair with Lox is intertwined with Eastern European Jewish Diaspora’s move to North America, their beloved Bagels and the availability and affordability of ‘smoked salmon’


Where did the word Lox originate?

American’s think that they invented the word Lox and that it’s primarily a New York thing, but it’s not. Montrealers use the word lox as well. That is because in Yiddish, which most Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants spoke regardless of what country they came from, Lox is the word for Salmon or Smoked Salmon. The Yiddish language, (combination of Hebrew and German- or Indo-European) borrowed the word for Salmon LAKS. (Lax or Laks means salmon in the Scandinavian countries too)

It’s the late 1900’s, immigrants are arriving with their traditions, which of course includes what they eat. European Jews were a tiny minority in Montreal and were Kosher for the most part, which meant they ate a lot of fish when they could, especially pickled herring and white fish. All fish that could be smoked or preserved and salted in brine were a staple and easier than getting kosher meat and fish is always pareve. Since Salmon was very expensive and rare in Eastern Europe, but plentiful and inexpensive in Canada it became part of the Jewish community’s tradition along with Bagel bakeries.


The Ashkenazi relationship with Fish

In Europe, salted and pickled fish is a long-standing tradition. Jewish communities adopted fish, as it is pareve which means it can be eaten as a dairy meal or meat meal. It was also easy in terms of dietary observance since fish could be purchased from a non-Jewish store. Smoking or salting fish was essential because of lack of refrigeration. Pickled herring and white fish were common as salmon was too expensive for most families.

It was in the North American Diaspora that Lox (Salmon) an indigenous fish, gained in popularity.

In Montreal, nearly every café or brunch spot serves bagels and lox (Smoked salmon or Salmon fumé) The city has claimed it as it’s own unique food specialty. If you go to Tourism Montreal, it’s right up there with Smoked Meat and Poutines!

What is Lox and What’s the Difference Between Smoked Salmon and Lox?

All lox is smoked salmon, but not all smoked salmon is lox.


Lox was traditionally only made from the belly of salmon, although other parts of the fish are now also used. The salmon is salt-cured or brined but never cooked or smoked, so it has a very distinctive texture.

Smoked Salmon

Smoked salmon can be made from any part of the fish, and it starts with salt curing or brining, but then is smoked sometimes with herbs and seasoning.

An origin story of ‘Bagel cream cheese and Lox’

Gil Marks, a specialist in Jewish culinary claims that the Cream Cheese and Bagel connection was a response to the “very un-kosher brunch classic Eggs Benedict (two halves of an English muffin topped with ham or bacon, a poached egg and hollandaise sauce) “

If that is the case, kosher-keeping Jewish families couldn’t eat it. It’s possible that some were inspired to substitute lox slices for ham, cream cheese for hollandaise sauce, and bagels for muffins. Even if it can’t be proven, it’s a good story.  And boy is it delicious and there are so many ways to eat it. 

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