One of the things I love about Turkish food is that you can see history in so many dishes, unchanged for hundreds of years. I had no idea that the simple Simit, Turkish Sesame Bagel, has remained unchanged since the 1400’s.
Sufi historian, Evliya Celebi writes about how the palace would order simits each morning from the bakeries in Istanbul around 1660. He described Istanbul’s simit sellers in his famous book Seyahatname, “There were a total of 300 sellers and 70 bakeries that made simit five times each day. The last batch came out after dark, and the sellers threaded the rings onto long sticks fixed into the corners of their baskets or trays, and hung a small lantern at the top to attract the attention of the crowds on their way home after work.”
The ring-shaped bread Simit made from flour was named as the Simid-I Halka (Circle) and eventually the name just shortened itself to Simit. Much easier for the Simit sellers to yell their wares as they would walk the streets, selling the fresh baked rings. I remember growing up, windows wide open, hearing their carts go up and down the streets in the early mornings and the sellers calling out “SIMIIIIT! SIMIIIIT!”
Simit is best eaten fresh, warm with some white or feta cheese and tomatoes. The slight sweetness in the dough comes from Mahlep, or ground cherry pits. Just one spoonful of this powdered pits adds that slightly sweet flavor to ofset the savory.
They resemble bagels in that they are a yeasted dough, round, and dipped in seeds or nuts before baking. However, where bagels are boiled a bit in water, simit is dipped in Pekmez, grape molasses. After dipping in pekmez, they are drenched in sesame seeds and baking in a fire oven. The combination of the pekmez and fire oven give it the traditional caramel coloring and crunch.
I’ve made simit a few times. Still haven’t been able to master the nice brown color, even though I dip it in pekmez. They are still super crunchy and perfect addition to the breakfast spread. They don’t stay fresh long and get hard pretty fast. One of my favorite recipes can be found here.
Simit is one of those turkish staples that shows that you don’t mess with a good thing. As you can see from the photos below of the Simit Sellers, only the clothes have changed from 18th century to the 21 century. They still go around with their tri-legged table that fits over their shoulder, still only sell sesame, and still sell it through the streets or on the corners as they have been doing for the past 600 years.