Like Turkey itself, the simit -- the round, sesame-encrusted bread ring that is a ubiquitous presence on the streets of Istanbul and most other Turkish cities -- is entertaining some very global ambitions. As CulinaryBackstreets.com reports, the humble simit is now taking on the mighty bagel in New York:
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.”
Now that the simit has landed in New York, the question is: If it can make it there, can it make it anywhere? One Turkish chain, Simit Sarayi (or "Simit Palace"), seems to believe the answer is yes. From the Financial Times:
A Turkish company aiming to introduce the country’s national snack to the rest of the world is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars from private equity groups to do so.
Simit Sarayi, a pastry and tea chain that roughly translates as “bagel palace”, is in talks with Los Angeles-based Colony Capital and Dubai’s Abraaj Capital over the sale of a minority stake the company hopes will raise some $500m.
“Simit Sarayi has a target of being a world brand, so it needs an international partner,” said Abdullah Kavukcu, its president, whose interest in selling a stake was initially reported by Turkey’s Hurriyet paper.
Mr Kavukcu said that to achieve his goal he was willing to step down from the management of the company, which specialises in simit, a lighter, sesame-covered bagel equivalent, of which it sells 83,000 a day.
In keeping with Turkey’s own, more assertive role on the international stage, the company, which already has outlets in Cyprus, Germany, the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia, has set itself a mission “to introduce simit to the entire world”.
“He wants to be the McDonald’s of the Middle East,” said a person close to Colony.