I cannot imagine someone travelling to Turkey without trying a simit. Not because they are the most delicious thing to eat in Turkey, but because they are everywhere. Especially in Istanbul. Bakeries, street vendors, fancy hotel breakfasts, not fancy hotel breakfasts. Their ever-present presence screams, try me. And after having them enough times, you come to crave them despite their simplicity. Many people have described them as a Turkish bagel, but I don’t think that’s an apt comparison. And because they can be bought on the street, they have more of a kinship with something like a pretzel. Just a snack on the way to or from work or to fuel walking up and down the hills of Istanbul. But yes, like a bagel, they are circular, and they come on breakfast platters where you might use one as a base to spread some butter or jam, or to place a small wedge of cheese on. But no, texturally nothing like a bagel. It is light and fluffy like bread, not boiled or dense like a bagel. If you’re working your jaw to eat a simit, you’ve received a stale one. For the unfortunate souls on this continent whose only access to “bagels” are the buns with holes in them that you find in supermarkets or in bags of six on the shelves (I’m sorry, Edmonton), then yes, a simit is like a bagel in your world.
The best simits I had in Turkey and in Berlin (where there is a very sizable Turkish population) were direct from bakeries. It only takes one hard, too-chewy, tooth-cracking simit from a street vendor or on a breakfast platter to change your mind about them. Don’t. Trudge on until you have one in your hands that feels lighter than it looks, that pulls apart with the ease of fresh bread, and whose sesame crust adds nuttiness and only a gentle textural contrast.
Simits have been in New York for a spell now, and while the “Turkish bagel” moniker had PR tongues wagging with their introduction, I haven’t heard much more. The simit I had from the Upper West Side branch of the small chain Simit + Smith was decent, but not memorable. The texture was okay, but the crust could have been darker, to reinforce the importance of a toasted sesame flavour. I noticed the location of the Turkish chain Simit Sarayi on Fifth Avenue during one of my recent lunchtime strolls and made a note to return when I needed a snack or to supplement my lunch.
Simit Sarayi is more cafe than bakery. I never went to one while I was in Turkey because I kind of turned my nose up at the thought of a chain. In addition to simit, they have simit sandwiches, the savoury pastries known as borek (which looked worth trying), and a few entrees. I was in a state of shock when I took my $1.62 simit out of the bag. A perfect, fresh, warm (!) specimen was in my grip. I knew as soon as I made the first pull to break the ring that I was in for a little trip down Istanbul memory lane. So, instead of turning the corner and walking back to my imposing corporate/open-concept midtown mountain, in my mind, I just walked out of that little Beyoglu bakery down the street from my Airbnb. I was skirting cobbles and not office workers, but in both worlds, smiling with satisfaction.