Over the years, the New York-style bagel has come to dominate breakfast buffets and brunch tables, but it is far from the only style of bagel out there. If you look back at the history of the bagel, you'll find many ancient bagels that served as predecessors to the modern bagel. One of the oldest bagels, dating back to the Ottoman Empire, is the Turkish bagel, called a simit. But what is a Turkish bagel? "The simit is a traditional Turkish street food and breakfast item that originates in Turkey but is popular throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean," explains Zulfikar Bekar, president of Simit + Smith, a Turkish bakery and cafe that's based in New York City. "Many people grab simits during the morning rush hour on their way to work as it is simple, affordable, flavorful, and nutritious."
So far, so bagel. But the form factor might be where the similarities between the New York-style and Turkish bagels end, because there are some pretty significant differences between a New York and Turkish bagel when it comes to taste and texture. The simit, for example, is sweeter than a classic New York-style bagel, and the texture couldn't be more opposite. While a New York-style bagel is known for its thick crust and dense, chewy interior, a simit is lighter and less doughy, though still crisp on the outside.
There's also a signature sweetness to a simit, which comes from the addition of pekmez, which Bekar describes as "a molasses-like syrup." It's made from the boiled down juices of fruits, most commonly grapes but sometimes mulberries, apples, plums, and pears, and it's a standard Turkish breakfast ingredient. The dough, once rolled out into rings, is dipped into the pekmez, which gives the pastry its signature crispiness once baked.
After the excess molasses drips off the bagel, the whole thing is rolled in sesame seeds and baked in the oven for 30 minutes. There's no boiling, as with either New York- or Montreal-style bagels, which makes the whole process a little simpler.
Even though it's a little bit different from the New York-style bagel you know and love, the simit is still a perfect choice for breakfast, either savory or sweet. "It is often consumed with tea or coffee and with a spread like feta, cream cheese, or jam," says Bekar. Simit + Smith even makes so-called Simitwiches, or sandwiches on simits, so don't be scared to try a bacon, egg, and cheese on it, either. Because even though these simits have been served for breakfast for centuries, and are very different from their North American predecessors, there's no reason Turkish bagels can't get the New York treatment, too.