The Simits Take Manhattan

A simit stand in Istanbul, photo by Yigal Schleifer

Being big fans of simit – the sesame-encrusted bread ring that’s one of Turkey’s most popular street foods – we’ve looked on with delight over the last few years as the humble snack has made its way from Istanbul to the other metropolis with a 212 area code: Manhattan. First, longstanding Istanbul baklava maker Güllüoğlu opened a branch in Midtown East and began selling freshly baked simit under the moniker “Turkish bagel.”

Now, a brand-new establishment with an entirely simit-based menu, Simit + Smith, has opened on the Upper West Side, with plans in the works to expand to the Financial District and elsewhere in the city. The eatery offers an array of sandwiches and sweet and savory snack items made with (purists beware!) three different types of simit: original with sesame, whole wheat with sesame or whole grain. Moreover, Simit + Smith seems to be squarely taking aim at the New York bagel market, noting on its website that “Simit have 2/3 the calories and much less fat than bagels or pretzels and contain all natural ingredients with absolutely no sugar.”

But will New Yorkers, notoriously wedded to their bagels, make the switch? The New York Daily News recently got on the story, polling a handful of top bagel connoisseurs about their opinions on simit, with reactions that ranged from enthusiastic to derisive:

“It looks like a pretzel!” says Florence Wilpon, owner of Manhattan mainstay Ess-A-Bagel. And she won’t call the Turkish import a bagel. “What gives a simit its flavor is the sesame,” Wilpon says. “There’s a damp feeling inside, like it’s not thoroughly baked.”

Though die-hard bagel fans may snub their noses, the folks at Simit + Smith seem to be confident of the crunchy, tasty bread’s ability to win over even the pickiest New Yorkers. As the company’s business director, Vanessa Vardon, tells the newspaper: “If it can work on the Upper West Side, which is very local, it can work anywhere.”

The full New York Daily News story is here.

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