The beloved bagel-like simit is one of Türkiye’s staple breakfast items and a go-to snack throughout the day, serving as the perfect base to satisfy an array of cravings, savory or sweet. Great for on the go, as a toasty snack or as part of a lavish breakfast spread, here’s how the Turks like their simit!
A simit is a circular baked bread that is thinner and lighter in consistency than a bagel and lathered in sesame seeds. There are new variations popping up, some of which use whole grain flour while others are covered in other seeds, like sunflower seeds, however, in my humble opinion, this special bread’s very name and essence are derived from its sesame seed encasing and the seeds themselves make the simit.
These bread rings may resemble bagels, but there are a lot of differences between the two. First and foremost, the simit is not boiled before it is baked, therefore it does not have the heavier and chewier consistency of a bagel. A simit is lighter and crispier and the yeasted dough is twisted into a donut-shaped circle, but twice the size, and the edges work to capture the molasses sauce the bread is dipped in before baking. Yes, you read that right, the simit is covered in a sauce of watered-down grape molasses after which it is dipped into sesame seeds, which go on to cover it in its entirety. Simit can be purchased at every bread bakery, pastry shops, most corner shops as well as from street stands and wandering vendors that call out “simit” as they walk through neighborhoods.
If you get a simit from a stand, you have the extra option of purchasing a single triangle of spreadable cheese, available for purchase from the vendor, who breaks down the usual eight-piece round boxes of cheeses from brands such as “La Vache qui rui.” To ask for this in Turkish, one simply needs to say “üçgen peynir,” which literally means a triangle of cheese. Unlike the way a bagel is served, which most foreigners might be more familiar with, the simit is never served with a cream cheese variation, but instead is consumed on-the-go with this distinct type of spreadable cheese.
Many will have seen sliced up pieces of simit in most bread baskets served alongside the country’s famous Turkish breakfast, but there are a number of combinations that work particularly well with this nutty-flavored delight. For example, simit spread with butter and jam well surpasses any normal piece of toast. The Turks love to combine tahini with pekmez, which is the name for a popular grape molasses regularly offered in Turkish breakfasts. While the two come separately, the steadfast rule is to combine the tahini and pekmez together, which creates a unique sweet and slightly savory combination the Turks adore. While you may think it would be strange to spread tahini, which is composed of ground sesames, over a bread already covered in sesame seeds, the tastes are distinctly different and you get a lot more protein and nutrients from what you consume versus a slice of a white loaf of bread.
My personal favorite combination to spread on a simit involves butter, a salty cheese and a dollop of honey. In this case, the medley creates a sweet and salty crave-worthy flavor. The cheese used for this particular topping could be anything from kaşar, which gives the flavor a sweeter taste, to tulum, feta cheese or even the more mellow süzme peyniri, which is a soft and creamy “strained” cheese. Those who have visited Alaçatı will be familiar with the lor cheese and mulberry jam flavor profile, which is a favorite in this upscale and popular vacation town in Izmir. Lor is a mild and soft curd cheese and it is also used to make a dainty ball-shaped hard cookie that is also distinct to the region. The combination of the creamy cheese and the sweetness and dark burgundy color of the mulberry jam makes for a perfect combo to top a piece of simit. If mulberry jam, which is called düt reçeli, is not on hand, black cherry (vişne) jam serves as a great substitution.
Simit also pairs wonderfully with any sort of tomato or red pepper paste or the variety of breakfast dips that are made by combining the two with other ingredients such as walnuts, garlic, basil and coriander. While either paste can be served up as part of the breakfast spread, this saucy combination is referred to as acuka dip and it is available for purchase from any shop or supermarket. This spicy sauce-like dip goes wonderfully spread on a simit and even better with a piece of feta cheese to accompany it. In all of its simplicity, one of the best accompaniments to a simit is simply a piece of feta cheese, with which you can never go wrong. But one of the absolute best ways to enjoy a simit is to dip it into a pan filled with fried sucuk, Türkiye’s signature spicy sausage, or to lap up the tomato and pepper juiciness in the country’s signature egg dish, menemen.
Many breakfast venues in Türkiye now offer a simit plate, in which case the saltier offerings from a Turkish breakfast spread are placed together on a single plate. These items include soğuş, which is chopped up tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, feta cheese and the adored acuka sauce. Cafes have also jumped on the bandwagon and many offer a toasted simit as a grilled cheese alternative. In this case, the simit is served warm with melted kaşar, tulum or feta and accompanied with tomatoes, sundried tomatoes and these days even a layer of pesto. This is the one variation in which a simit is served toasted, otherwise, the preferred way of biting into this special bread is when it has been baked that morning and is fresh as can be in all its glory.