WASHINGTON — What popular breakfast bread is round in shape, golden brown in color and covered in sesame? It’s not a bagel; it’s the simit. And the traditional Turkish food is making its mark in D.C.
Simit + Smith, a new bakery and cafe, opened its doors at 1077 Wisconsin Ave., NW in Georgetown this spring. And just as the name suggests, the eatery’s flagship food is the simit — a ring-shaped bread that has a crispy outside and flaky center.
Simit is often compared to the beloved bagel, but Simit + Smith owner and operator Basar Akkuzu says there are some key differences between the two.
For starters, simit is baked, not boiled, making it less chewy than a bagel. The dough is dipped twice in molasses during the cooking process, giving the simit a crunchy texture and golden color. Simit is also thinner than a bagel and has about half the calories. (So don’t feel too guilty about going back for a second … or third.)
While the dedicated simit bakery is new to D.C., the simit is not new at all. The history of the bread can be traced back to the 14th Century. Akkuzu explains simit originated in Israel and quickly spread through the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Turkey.
“So people from that region of the world, when they see the shape of the bread, they automatically know what it is because we grew up with it,” said Akkuzu, who lived in Turkey until the age of 16, when he left to attend school in Switzerland.
Now, simit is one of the most iconic foods of Turkey, where it’s often sold from glass-covered carts on busy city streets.
“When you hear the simitçi [simit street vendors], it’s almost like an ice cream truck car bell. It’s eaten in every single street corner in Turkey, regardless of your age group or social status or income,” said Akkuzu, a longtime Washingtonian who used to stuff his suitcase with simit every time he returned to D.C. from a trip to Turkey.
Now, Akkuzu can save room in his luggage for other souvenirs. Stacks of simit fill the window at Simit + Smith near Georgetown’s busy intersection at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street. The bread can be ordered plain, or as part of a traditional Turkish breakfast platter with cheese, black olives, tomatoes, hard boiled egg, honey and seasonal jams.
And simit is not just for breakfast.
“We eat it with our teas, coffees, anytime throughout the day,” Akkuzu said.
The cafe makes a simit sandwich, which is piled with feta, cheddar or kasseri cheese, tomatoes and oregano. It also serves yogurt and lentil soup with simit chips.
All of the ingredients used to make the simit are shipped from Turkey and assembled in the bakery’s primary kitchen in New Jersey. (Simit + Smith has five locations in New York and two in New Jersey.)
Simit + Smith serves up a handful of other Turkish favorites, including pogača (think of this as a Turkish empanada, stuffed with cheese and olives), antep lahmacun (a foldable flat bread with marinated meat and onions) and a baklava, which is handmade with 40 layers of phyllo dough.
Simit + Smith is open Monday-Thursday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 1077 Wisconsin Ave., NW.