A simple ring-shaped bread, completely covered in toasted sesame seeds and baked to a crunchy perfection, is one of Istanbul’s most beloved street foods. As well as being sold on the street, there are hundreds of small, on-the-run cafés/bakeries that specialize in simit. These cafés dot the city and can be found all around Istanbul, the most prominent being Simit Sarayı.
There’s a Simit Sarayı on every street corner (it’s like the Turkish version of McDonald’s…but healthier!) so it’s somewhat unavoidable. As a tourist you just know this is something you will try at some point. And I say, the sooner you get your hands on your first ring of simit, the better!
The simit vendors in the street either sell from a cart or stack the simit on a pole that they carry around. Hygiene does come into question here as the simit sits out in the open, but I like to think that bread is a pretty safe food to buy on the street.
The difference between buying from a street vendor and a small bakery is the vendors will just sell you the bread. No cream cheese, no labneh, no jam and definitely no cup of hot, steaming tea. I absolutely love condiments, dips and tea, so the idea of plain bread is just inconceivable to me.
We got our first simit not far from the Eyup Sultan Camii, at a small simit bakery in an area frequented by locals and almost free of tourists. The upside? Everyone was really friendly. The downside, however, was that nobody spoke English. And I mean not even a smattering of touristy English. Thankfully, the only word you need to know is simit!
We were greeted very warmly by the staff, but couldn’t understand a word that they were saying. And it was the second day of Eid in a predominantly Muslim area, so I’m sure the festivities made the staff even more gregarious and talkative. All we could do was smile and nod politely. I pointed at the simit and as an after thought asked for çay (regular tea, pronounced chai) to go with it. All the other pastries and sandwiches looked really good, but we were overwhelmed and only got a simit.
So after we got our simit and paid for it (when sign language had failed, the cashier counted out money on the counter top to show us how much we owed him), we headed upstairs to enjoy our crunchy, sesame-covered treat.
This is definitely one of the cheapest snacks you can get while in Istanbul and I highly recommend asking for cheese or jam to go with it.
Are you a fan of street food? How adventurous are you when you travel? Have you had simit or something similar? Do tell!