created at: 2013-01-30
It’s easy to get caught up in the Boston bagel debate. Everyone has a favorite and is ready to defend it. The discussions are contentious enough among native Bay Staters, but throw in the New York and New Jersey transplants, and you’ve got a veritable state versus state bagel battle.

I’ve always tried my best to avoid confrontation. I’ve taken the diplomatic, “Oh, every bagel is delicious!” stance. I’ve even made my own to avoid having to choose a favorite. But diplomacy can be boring, and homemade can be time-consuming. And besides, I recently found a way to remove myself completely from the regional bagel madness. Instead of taking one state’s side, I’m going international. I’m talking about simit. That is, Turkish bagels.

Well, at least that’s how they’re thought of here in bagel-loving America. Simit is traditionally a circular bread covered in sesame seeds. It’s a common street food in Turkey, but it’s eaten all over the Balkans and Middle East, and is usually served for breakfast, either plain or with feta cheese and tomato.

I first heard about this bagel/soft pretzel hybrid from a food-crazed coworker who was so excited about a recently opened New York City bakery named Simit + Smith that she emailed its menu to the entire staff at our Boston-based company. (Yes, we work in the food industry, but fitting a trip to NYC into a one-hour lunch break might be pushing it a bit.)

I love bagels. I love soft pretzels. So, the question was: Short of crossing state lines, how could I get my hands on this stuff? The answer—as it usually is—was to take a trip to West Cambridge. Or, more specifically, to Sofra, the Middle Eastern bakery and café whose inventive menu and bold flavors have made it my go-to for Mediterranean food. And, as a bonus, it’s surrounded by the great Middle Eastern markets of Belmont and Watertown that were sure to sell their own versions as well.

By the end of my trip, I’d eaten two very different simits. Sofra’s take, which they described as a “sesame scone,” looked like a small rectangular loaf and was sweet and faintly almondy, with the flakiness of a biscuit. And on the other end of the spectrum, the one I bought at Eastern Lamejun, the Turkish and Armenian bakery down the street, was airy, bread-like, and shaped in the traditional ring.

Now that I’d tasted simit, I set out to make my own. I scoured the extensive cookbook library at work, but couldn’t find mention of it anywhere. So, I turned to the Internet. There, I found this recipe, which I prepared on a freezing-cold Saturday afternoon. It produced simit that fell somewhere between the two that I’d tried on my day of research: a sweet, elastic crust with a light, doughy interior. Kind of like a sesame stick paired with an Auntie Anne’s pretzel. And coming from me, that’s quite the endorsement.

So is simit the new bagel? Purists would argue that it doesn’t fit squarely into any box—bread, bagel, or pretzel—and that it’s some kind of combination of all three. But it’s certainly got its similarities, which allows you to have your bagel and eat it, too—without all the state-by-state debate.