The Original Bagel

A Saturday morning habit bordering on religious…roll out of bed, throw on clothes, and buy a half dozen fresh simit from the local vendor on a corner of Bagdat Caddesi. The taste and ritual have become so commonplace to me, though when I’m away I miss these typical scents I associate with life in Istanbul. Ordering a sesame bagel in North America is an attempt to recapture the essence of Turkey, but the pathetically bland affair fails to transport my senses. An anemic smattering of sesame seeds on equally pale, lifeless dough. A simit by comparison is firm on the outside, tender and chewy on the inside. The iconic deep amber color is achieved by dipping the dough rings in a mixture of grape molasses and water, then coating them generously with sesame seeds, and finishing in a hot oven.

Simit in Istanbul is typically eaten in the morning with cheese, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and Turkish tea of course. The American equivalent to that would be cereal or oatmeal, and a cup of coffee. If you’re busy, for about .50 extra, the street sellers will slice your simit in half, spreading either cream cheese, black olive paste, or nutella on it for you. Many people have it in the afternoon with their tea, but it is never, ever eaten at night.

Simit appeared circa 1525, in Istanbul, gaining widespread popularity throughout the Ottoman empire. According to the notes of 17th-century writer Evliya Çelebi, “there were 70 simit bakeries in Istanbul during the 1630s”. Çelebi, an ancient version of the modern day travel and food blogger, sojourned the length of the Ottoman Empire and neighboring territories for forty years, narrating his observations in a travelogue called Seyâhatnâme.

Although it may not be as well known globally as the French Baguette, the humble Turkish simit has an enduring and delectable history.

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Coffee. Beer. Climbing Tall Things.

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