What: Often billed as “Turkish bagels,” these dense, skinny rings of sesame-seed-covered dough are a ubiquitous sight on the streets of Istanbul (and beyond), attesting to their longstanding popularity as a quick-and-tasty breakfast to go. In fact, they’ve been a part of Turkish life for hundreds of years, dating to the early days of the Ottoman Empire, at least 1525 in Istanbul. Traditionally the dough is made of flour, water, yeast, and salt; then they’re dipped in water and pekmez, or grape molasses, and rolled in sesame seeds before baking (recipe here). Today, more often than not you’ll encounter them in piles behind glassed-in pushcarts, where quality will vary wildly depending on how long they’ve been sitting out (a little jam or krem peynir, cream cheese, goes a long way with those). If possible, though, get thee to a simit bakery, where you’re treated not only to a fresh, hot specimen, but also to a view of the baking process.
Where: You can’t help but feel triumphant when, joining the street vendors stopping by to restock, you buy a simit straight out of the wood-fired oven at Galata SimitC`isi (Mumhane Cad. No. 47, map): You’re gaming the system. That delicious hand-rolled, freshly baked circle of bread that starts to cool and harden and dry up the minute it moves away from here? It’s already in your mouth! Located on an industrial-looking street in up-and-coming Karaköy, the bakery is tiny and easy to miss, but definitely worth seeking out.
Order: The classic simit (1.5 TL each) is just perfect here, crispy on the outside—the traditional sesame seeds nicely toasted—with soft, warm innards that satisfy only as fresh-baked bread can (also try a cekirdekli simit, topped with sunflower seeds). No cheeses or spreads are sold here, and fortunately they’re not needed. Almost as good as eating a simit, though, is watching how they’re made (just don’t expect any English narration from the guys rolling and baking simit). We were struck by just how similar the simit-making process is to that of bagel-making, particularly the bagels made in Montreal, where some shops likewise have an open kitchen. Quickly rolled and covered in sesame seeds, the simit were laid out along a lengthy narrow paddle used to deposit them into the burning brick oven, into which you can glimpse rows of simit illuminated by flame. This shop has been in business for 30 years, but you get the sense this cooking process predates it by centuries (which it does). Simple and beautiful.
Good to know: Galata SimitC`isi makes and sells other pastries too, such as acma (more like a fat, bready bagel) and po?aça, pillowy and stuffed with cheese. Definitely try whatever is fresh and hot. And if you want C`ay (tea) with your breakfast, there’s a teahouse called Anchor Café just a few doors down.
Alternatively: Fresh and hot from a real artisan is always best, but if you can’t make it to Karaköy, you can easily find the chain of eateries named for the simit, Simit Saray? (multiple locations including ?stiklal Cad. No. 3, map), which offers things like simit sandwiches with feta and tomato and hot snacks like börek. Or take your chances with a street vendor—they’re always there when the craving strikes, and sometimes can be quite satisfying (like this one was).