Simit, a Beloved Turkish Culinary Delight,


Simit, a beloved Turkish culinary delight, holds a special place in the country’s gastronomic landscape. Commonly referred to as a Turkish bagel, this circular bread encrusted with sesame seeds has become an iconic symbol of Turkish street food culture. With its origins dating back centuries, simit is not just a snack; it’s a cultural emblem that transcends time.

Origin of Simit

Simit seller. Illustration by Warwick GobleAlthough there is no definitive information about the origin of simit, some sources suggest that simit emerged during the Byzantine Empire, Seljuk State, or Anatolian Seljuk State periods. The word simit is a loanword from the Arabic word samīd (fine bulgur or semolina). The Arabic word is a loanword from the Aramaic/Syriac word samīdā (flour). This word is derived from the Akkadian verb samīdu (to grind).

It is rumored that simit was first prepared as a practical food for travelers in Izmit, in a place known as the accommodation area of caravans. The name of this ring-shaped food remained simit, as people traveling in caravans took the bagels with them as a snack and told people they met along the way that they bought them from “Simiti.”

It is known that simit was a popular food during the Ottoman Empire. In the oldest archival sources mentioning simit, it is stated that simit has been consumed in Istanbul since 1525. In 1593, the weight and price of the bagel were standardized for the first time in history. 17th-century traveler Evliya Çelebi wrote that there were 70 businesses selling bagels in Istanbul in the 1630s. Painters such as Jean Brindesi and Warwick Goble also depicted bagel sellers in Istanbul in the 19th century.

Over time, simit became widespread throughout the Ottoman Empire and in the Balkans. Bagel-like foods, known as kuluri in Greece, gevrek in Bulgaria, çevrek in Serbia, and covrigi in Romania, are also fondly consumed in these regions.

Types of Simit

Types of simit vary according to the consistency of the dough, shape, size, amount of sesame seeds, and cooking method. For example, Istanbul simit is thin, crispy, and has plenty of sesame seeds. Izmir simit, on the other hand, is known as gevrek and is thicker, softer, and less sesame. Ankara bagel is smaller, harder, and has less sesame. The Konya bagel is larger, thicker, and without sesame. Kayseri bagel is smaller, harder, and has sesame seeds.

The Recipe

Although the preparation of simit varies from region to region, it is generally as follows: Yeast is dissolved in warm water and left to rise. Flour is put into the dough-kneading bowl, and the middle is opened like a pool. Add the dissolved yeast and salt. Add molasses and water little by little, and knead a dough as soft as an earlobe. The dough is divided into pieces and stretched by rolling. Two pieces of cloth are wrapped around each other to form a ring. The rings are first dipped in molasses water and then in thirsty water. Place on a greased tray and bake in a preheated oven until golden brown.

Simit is not just bread; it’s an integral part of daily life in Turkey. It graces breakfast tables, street vendor carts, and social gatherings alike. The combination of its affordable price and delicious taste makes it accessible to people from all walks of life, fostering a sense of unity through a shared appreciation for this humble yet flavorful creation.

Beyond its cultural significance, it embodies the craftsmanship of Turkish bakers. The process of making simit requires skill and precision, from kneading the dough to achieving the perfect balance of softness and crispness. This craftsmanship has been passed down through generations, preserving the authenticity and quality of this traditional Turkish treat.

In recent years, it has gained international recognition, finding its way onto menus in various parts of the world. As global palates embrace diverse cuisines, simit’s popularity continues to grow, bringing a slice of Turkish culture to distant corners of the globe.

In conclusion, simit is more than just a baked good; it’s a cultural symbol deeply embedded in the fabric of Turkish society. Its humble yet flavorful presence transcends borders, uniting people through the simple joy of sharing a delicious and iconic piece of Turkish culinary heritage.

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