• Jocette Lee

Simit’ten with the Turkish Simit


When winding through the ancient streets of Istanbul, loud shouts from the Simitçiii, also known as Turkish bagel street vendors, yell “Simit, bir lira!” or “Simit, one dollar!” so loudly that the absence of this noise would break the audible patterns of the city. Found on every corner, in every neighborhood, Simitçiiis provide a fast eating option for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack. The cost of the average simit is one lira or the equivalent of 18 American cents ($0.18).[1] Stacked high upon trays or adorned around the wrists of the vendors, simits are abundant and available all over the city and country.

Various forms of traditional street food take part of the daily commotion of Istanbul. However, no other dish offered from a wheeled cart can compete with the collective historical value of the Turkish simit. A simit is circular, sesame-covered bread that is both crispy and fluffy. Made from four simple ingredients, flour, salt, water and yeast, the dough is basic.[2] Once the dough is mixed and left to rise for two hours, it is rolled into individual twisted rounds, dunked into a thin glaze of grape or pomegranate molasses and then followed by a smothering of sesame seeds.[3] The dough is baked and then shipped off to the market to be distributed amongst individual vendors around the city. Despite its exposure to molasses, the simit is thought of as savory bread, often accompanied with cay (click here to learn about Turkish black tea) and salty cheese.[4] For a better understanding of the production process, from dough to distribution, see the embedded video here.

The Turkish people have distinguished themselves by defined geographical characteristics such as accents, dress, customs and particularly through regional food dishes. Istanbul acts as an epicenter for the country and therefore has food ambassadors from each of the regions. Options such as Adana kebab originating in southeastern Turkey or pilav, which traveled from Anatolia, are both typical of their respective regions within the country. While the simit might have different names around Turkey, the presence and importance of this item is fundamental to all of Turkish cuisine.[5] The simit is iconic because it spans the breadth of Turkey and is a national staple embodying the history of the country.
History of the Simit
There are historical references and documentations made about the simit that predate 1435, the year of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople.[6] The simit gained popularity after the sultans incorporated this bread into their daily diet.[7] The influence of this empire is evident through the remaining presence of simit-like bread in Greece, Macedonia and Lebanon.[8] In fact, the spread of the simit into Eastern Europe is thought to be responsible for the origins of the bagel.[9] Over time the simit has slowly evolved into the present form however other variations include the adornment of poppy seeds instead of the modern sesame seeds.[10] Due to ancient origins and a long lasting presence, the simit has been intertwined into the culture of the country as it has been conquered, developed and evolved.
Much like the culture of France, Germany and many more, the presence of bread in Turkey, particularly the simit, has sustained the poor and provided cheap food to fill bellies.[11] In the past, protests have been ignited due to a slight increase of flour prices in which simit makers petitioned for a parallel increase of simit price to reflect the adjustment.
Politically, the simit has been used to gain nationwide approval and compassion. The simit is frequently used as an analogy or example in the speeches of political candidates. In fact, the current Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an example of a candidate who had practiced this technique; he used his own personal anecdote of humble beginnings as a teenage simit seller.[12] This personal story was presented as a way to win the public vote of his constituents, which proved to be successful as he was elected in 2002 and still currently holds office in 2014.[13] If the simit were not a foundational Turkish food, it would be hard to understand why the Prime Minister would use this anecdote to win the vote of the entire Turkish nation.
Future of the Simit

While the simit continues to hold a place in Turkish culture, politics and history, the incorporation of the bread in the daily diet of the people is being challenged. As globalization impacts Turkey with unstoppable force, the various food options in the country have continued to increase. With the presence of foreign food products in Turkey, will the importance and role of the simit continue to look the same as it has in the past?

There are current efforts being made by a relatively new, national quick service restaurant called Simit Sarayi, often referred to as the Turkish version of Dunkin’ Donuts. This chain restaurant has expanded rapidly across the nation of Turkey and internationally as well with locations in Germany, Belgium and even the Netherlands.[14] The president of the company, Abdullah Kavukcu, admits to attempting to become the “McDonald’s of the Middle East” and believes that his business has the ability to represent the nation of Turkey to rest of the world.[15] The chain was launched in 2002 and has seen expansion into seven other countries in eleven years with two hundred and twenty-six stores and four thousand employees.[16] As the chain grows and develops, the simit becomes a unified representation of the country to the world. While the significance and popularity of the simit might be decreasing in country due to foreign competition, the international exposure of the simit is increasing.

While there are many Turkish fast foods that are available around the cities of Turkey, the simit has the ability to encapsulate the food culture of the entire nation. In fact, this food has such an encompassing ability that it is currently being projected and spread to other countries as well. The simit has captured the hearts of the Turks and is now making efforts to bring other nations into this love affair.

[1] Roth, Alisa. "Simit: Turkey's National Bread." Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12: 32.

[2] Roth, Alisa. "Simit: Turkey's National Bread." Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12: 32.

[3] Simit (Turkish Bagel) - Turkey Eats Series 2012.

[4] Simit (Turkish Bagel) - Turkey Eats Series 2012.

[5] Schleifer, Yigal. "The Turkish Simit, Now in New York, Has Global Ambitions."

[6] Roth, Alisa. "Simit: Turkey's National Bread." Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12: 33.

[7] Roth, Alisa. "Simit: Turkey's National Bread." Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12: 33.

[8] Roth, Alisa. "Simit: Turkey's National Bread." Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12: 33.

[9] Roth, Alisa. "Simit: Turkey's National Bread." Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12: 33.

[10] Roth, Alisa. "Simit: Turkey's National Bread." Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12: 33.

[11] Bigloveturkey.com. "Simit – A Must Taste Turkish Food." Accessed April 18, 2014. http://www.bigloveturkey.com/pages/41-simit-sesame-rings.asp

[12] Roth, Alisa. "Simit: Turkey's National Bread." Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12: 32.

[13] Roth, Alisa. "Simit: Turkey's National Bread." Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12: 32.

[14] Schleifer, Yigal. "The Turkish Simit, Now in New York, Has Global Ambitions."

[15] Schleifer, Yigal. "The Turkish Simit, Now in New York, Has Global Ambitions."

[16] Boz, Savaş Mutlu–Anıl. "Tradition to Innovation: SİMİT SARAYI CASE."


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©2020 by Jocette Lee.

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