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The Golden Ring: Simit

Updated: Jun 3

The Golden Ring. You can call it 'Turkish bagel' but we call it 'simit'. The simit (savory sesame ring)is maybe Turkey's characteristic street food and it has been over a 500 years. It is sold in almost Turkey's all cities throughout the streets and bakeries.

The Golden Ring
The Golden Ring

People of all ages mostly prefer simit at breakfast but they eat it whenever and wherever they feel hungry, for example, on a ferry boat ride accompanied by a glass of tea or as an afternoon snack.

The Golden Ring
The Golden Ring

It is said that the simit was invented in the palace kitchens of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent during the 1500s however, no official records have been found.  At that time, Istanbul’s population was a around 200,000, a mere fraction of today's population of 15,5 million. In the 16th century, Ottoman Empire's famous writer and historian Evliya Çelebi mentioned about Istanbul’s simit sellers in his famous book 'Seyahatname', “There were a total of 300 sellers and 70 bakeries that made simit five times each day. The last batch came out after dark, and the sellers threaded the rings onto long sticks fixed into the corners of their baskets or trays, and hung a small lantern at the top to attract the attention of the crowds on their way home after work.


The Golden Ring
The Golden Ring

During the 20th century,business owners changed hand rapidly. Almost all bakeries belonged to the Greek families during the 1940s. After them, families from Safranbolu and Kastamonu (from the Black Sea Region of Turkey) took over the business betweet 1950s and 1960s. During the 1960s, bakeries offered young men, mostly from Tokat (central city of the Black Sea Region)migrated to Istanbul for a better life, a warm place to work and also sleep. Over the years, these simit sellers started to own these bakeries once they worked for. Today, over 300 bakeries supply simit to the Istanbul's residents and visitors and 85 percent of these bakeries in IStanbul belong to those families from Tokat.

Simit bakeries still use the traditioanal baking methods. Bakers work around a counter next to a large wood-burning oven. Ingredients like flour, water and yeast are mixed and kneaded with the help of large machines. The first man cuts the dough into equal pieces and weights each piece. Then, two men roll out these dougs into rope-like strips and twist two strips, finally join the ends to form a ring. Next, they sink the rings into a vat of pekmez (molasses) and a bowl of sesame seeds. These last two steps gives the simit its caramized color and slightly sweet taste. Finally, the last man places the rings on a long wooden paddle and put them into the wood-burning oven.


The Golden Ring
The Golden Ring

Throughout the entire process, the paddle worker (kürekçi) has the most crucial mission. He must excatly know where to put the rings within the large oven. If they are placed too close to the fire, they will burn and get wasted. It is said that the rings must bake until their colors look like 24-k gold coins used by the Ottomans.


Today, the shouting sellers that roamed the streets decades ago, have almost all but disappeared except a couple of small cities. Instead, wholesalers distribute simit to the bakeries twice a day, between 6 and 9:30 am and again between 4 and 6 pm. The bakeries deliver simits to the street sellers at designated points of the city streets with cute, clean, glass-enclosed carts. As the carts are replenished, the sellers will yell, “Sıcak, sıcak... Taze, yeni geldi, Çıtır!” (Hot, hot...Fresh and new, Crispy!) and soon almost all the simits are sold. Everyday, over 2.5 million of the sesame rings are sold. 


After 2001, so called simit “houses” sprung up across Istanbul (actually across Turkey). For five liras (approximately one dollar), they offered simit and tea, an attractive alternative to big fast food componies' ten-lira meal. Seven days and almost twenty-four hours a day, people could eat simit and drink tea in these places. The simit palaces also started making different varieties of simit, filled with kaşar cheese, sucuk (sausage) or olives. However, the simit from these fast-food joints can never be compared to the taste of the traditional street simit.


As the word simit derives from ‘ring of flour’ lots of variations can be seen throughout Turkey including those without sesame seeds (sometimes called gevrek), the twisted version called çatma, and also the smaller rings (called kandil simit) that are made for the Muslim holy nights of kandil.



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