The simit. We challenge anyone to visit Turkey and not come across this (arguably) most famous and loved of Turkish snacks. The simit bread and the simit seller (see-meet-chee) are, to many, symbols of the country.
We’ll hold our hands up, here, and admit that it took us quite some time to get with the love of simit bread. In our early days, whilst we loved to see the local simitçi walking along the harbour of Fethiye calling out, “Taze simit. Sıcak simit. Gevrekçi,” and expertly balancing a tray piled with simits on his head, we never felt the urge to buy one.
And when we did succumb to Turkish-friend-peer-pressure and buy one, it was a while before we would buy one again. Where was the attraction in strolling along the harbour, chewing your way through a ring of dry bread?
Many years down the line into our Turkish life, and, of course, all of that has changed.
The simit bread can be both humble street food – a perfect snack for those on the go at any time of day – and a much anticipated addition to the Turkish breakfast table.
We love simit!
What Is Simit Bread?
We all have these little bugbears in life. If you follow this blog regularly, you might know that my bugbear is the fact that, despite Turkish cuisine being ranked amongst the top 3 in the world, various Turkish foods always seem to lose a bit of footing in the international arena.
They lose their individuality and identity by being compared to the foods of other countries.
What Is Simit Not?
So, just as a pide is not a Turkish pizza; mantı is not Turkish ravioli, menemen is not Turkish omelette; gözleme is not a Turkish pancake (I could go on); a simit is not a Turkish bagel. It’s, quite simply, a simit.
So, now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s celebrate all that is simit.
Taze Simit, Sıcak Simit
Because what is not to love? Archives show that these tasty Turkish sesame bread rings have been baked in Istanbul since the 1500s. Their price became standardised by the end of the 1500s and the simit became a part of the fabric of society.
If you’re fortunate enough to stay anywhere near a bakery that specialises in making simit, heading out early in the morning, or stopping the simitçi as he trundles by, bag yourself a hot, fresh simit. That is breakfast heaven.
In busy areas, simits will be baked throughout the day, not just in the morning. As your simitiçi pounds the streets calling out, “See-meet-chee,” if those simits are fresh from the oven, his call will also include, “Taze simit,” (fresh simit) and “Sıcak simit.” (Hot simit.)
As this is the 21st century, here in Fethiye, we’ve sometimes seen the simitçi on his moped. All his fresh, hot simits balance in a cardboard box at the back of the moped as he hurtles up and down the harbour beeping his horn and crying out, “Sıcak simit.”
Well, that’s one way to reach as large a customer base as possible and sell those simits whilst they’re hot!
We’re fortunate in Fethiye to still have a few simitçi pounding the streets with the traditional circular tray expertly balanced on their heads.
In larger cities, however, you’re more likely to find simit carts dotted around the neighbourhoods.
You can see what a popular street food snack the simit is by the sheer number of sesame bread rings stacked high in this cart. Again, the earlier you can get to these guys, the better.
When we stayed in an apartment in the Galata neighbourhood of Istanbul a while back, our morning simit from this cart was just one of the many highlights of our days.
Regional Variations Of Simit Bread
Didn’t we just say above that a simit is quite simply a simit? Well it is, and it isn’t. Not all simits are the same and where there are regional differences, of course the people of that region think their simit variation is the best.
Here in Fethiye, we tend to get a mix – çıtır simit or gevrek – these are the crisp ones. Or there are softer, more ‘bready’ simits, depending on where you buy them from.
We much prefer the crisp simits. A compact, heavy, yet soft dough centre with a crisp outer, covered in tasty sesame seeds. The crispness comes from the dough ring being dipped in molasses and then sesame seeds before being slid into a red hot wood fired brick oven.
Imagine those aromas emanating from the local bakery each morning.
The Istanbul simit is known for its crisp outer and soft centre.
As is the simit of Izmir.
Except in Izmir, you won’t get very far if you are looking for the street simit cart. In this city, the simit is known as the gevrek. And, rather than hunt out the local simitçi, you need to be looking for the gevrekçi.
They do things differently in Izmir.
‘Gevrek’ means crispy and, for us, the gevrek of Izmir are our favourites. When we stayed in the city in an Alsancak apartment, again, the gevrek was a breakfast treat. As with the Istanbul simit, it’s a crisp outer and compact, soft centre.
But there’s a bit more to the Izmir gevrek. A thicker bread ring that offers a bit more substance and satisfaction – in our opinion.
The Muğla Simit
And then there is the simit of Muğla. When we mentioned to Turkish friends a few years ago that we were going to Muğla, one of them immediately replied, “Oh, please bring me a simit.”
You can see the regular-sized simit just to the left of these traditional and larger Muğla simits. Whilst these would be a real treat on a family table when bought fresh and hot from the bakery, this photo was taken at around 3am in the otogar after we had been to see Duman in concert.
Fresh, hot simit becomes cold and chewy simit. A reheat in the oven was needed to return these to some sort of simit crispness.
There are lots of other regional simit variations around Turkey. In Black Sea areas, for example, the simit is made without the sesame seeds. We won’t judge until we’ve tried one but a simit without the sesame – difficult to imagine.
What Do You Eat With Simit Bread?
But let’s get to the best part of the simit story – eating it!
The simit is Turkey’s ultimate grab-and-go street food. And, when it’s fresh, it’s tasty enough to eat on its own. Held in a paper serviette or a simple piece of paper, it’s cheap and mess-free.
Some simit sellers will also have cartons of the salty yoghurt drink ayran for sale alongside their simit. A perfect combination.
And, for the street food eater looking for a bit more variation, a lot of simit carts will also sell triangles of soft cheese spread. Whilst this can make life a little more difficult if you’re eating your simit on the go, soft cheese and simit do make a perfect partnership.
Street Food Simit Bread
Not all is what it appears, here. Rather than a sesame encrusted ring, we’re eating simit bread.
Kaşarlı simit is perfect picnic food. We ate this particular kaşarlı simit whilst sitting at the ancient theatre at the ruins of Letoon. Not a bad setting for a traditional snack.
The simit bread in this case is formed into a wide canoe shape and the hollow filled with kaşar cheese which is then melted. If you’re lucky, you might find one with a few black olives thrown into the mix, too.
A Sit Down Snack
Cafes around Turkey are often filled with customers eating simit and washing it down with glasses of hot çay. In Fethiye, sitting by the sea at Hello Büfe doing just that – bliss.
National chains like Simit Sarayı (Simit Palace) also give the customer the opportunity to sit down with their simit and enjoy it with fillings such as beyaz peynir (white cheese like feta) and sliced tomato.
The simit is sliced through the middle and the filling added. If you’re in Fethiye, you can again enjoy your snack at a seaside setting. Simit Sarayı is next door to Boğaziçi Restaurant along the harbour.
At home, you can tear or slice your simit into chunks and dip it into a deliciously rich mix of tahini and pekmez. Chocolate hazelnut spread or local honey are also ideal for spreading and drizzling onto bite-sized chunks before popping it into your mouth.
Quarter your simit and then slice through the middle of each piece. Have all your fillings laid out on the table and savour each different flavour. A favourite topping for me is strawberry jam topped with labne. A mini simit cheesecake!
And if you want to go the hot and savoury route, you can get really inventive. Slice your simit through the middle so that you have two rings. Add some kaşar cheese (or a cheese that melts easily) between the slices and place back together.
Place the simit in a frying pan or on an oven tray and crack an egg into the centre. Throw in some pieces of sucuk and you have yourself sucuklu yumurta inside a simit – with hot cheese oozing from the edges. To be eaten with knife and fork, of course.