The smell of pastries can be smelled from afar and has already attracted the first customers at six o'clock in the morning. Sevda Yildirim carries a tray of fresh sesame rings into the comfortably warm room and stacks them clearly visible on the sales counter. The Simit, as the dough ring with its golden-yellow crust is called in Turkish, is the bakery's most important product - and gave the shop its name more than 40 years ago: The "Simit Factory" in Hamburg-Barmbek was the first bakery who brought the Turkish folk pastries to the Hanseatic city, says the saleswoman.
In its country of origin you can find the Simit on every street corner, in Germany it has become very popular in recent years. The kringel is now also available in German bakeries, sometimes even in the pastry displays of Lidl and Rewe. "Turkish sesame rings have arrived in Germany," was the headline of the German Press Agency in a recent report on Simit's triumphal march. You can also feel it in the "Simit Factory", where more than a hundred copies are sold every day. "It's very quick - bang, bang, bang," says Sevda Yildirim. The oven is on around the clock so that the head baker can supply supplies at any time. That is why the Simits are often still warm and fresh in the evening.
In Turkish, the word simit actually describes a fine type of bulgur. The term for the pastry came from the similarity between the sesame seeds and the small bulgur seeds, quotes the "Tagesspiegel" Orhan Tançgil, founder and owner of the blog "KochDichTürkisch". People gave the pastry a descriptive name: "According to the motto, 'Look, that looks like little bulgur grains'."
Anyone who describes the simit as a "Turkish pretzel" or "Turkish bagel" has probably never come across a really good simit. "One fills the bagel, but rarely the simit. The simit doesn't need any flavor enhancers, the simit stands for itself," writes an author of the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" in an almost poetic text about the sesame ringlet. It is its simplicity that distinguishes the Simit. A simplicity that should not be underestimated. According to Sevda Yildirim, the craft is an art that takes several years to learn. "You need a lot of patience and a lot of time - our baker does it every day for three to four hours," she says. And has been for several decades.
When making the pastry, two coils of dough are twisted together and formed into a ring. This creates the characteristic squiggle. "I tried it, but mine wasn't round, it was square," the saleswoman recalls and laughs. The round shape is "the typical hallmark," explains blogger Tançgil. According to him, the pastry originally comes from the Seljuk cuisine, which is associated with an old Muslim ruling dynasty.
The classic ring shape has evolved over time. The pastry was often used as a way food for travelers and was easier to transport in ring form, stacked on wooden sticks - so the simit became a kind of ancient fast food. Ottoman soldiers are even said to have packed sesame rings during Ramadan as a spare meal for the after-sunset shift.
The basic ingredients of Turkish pastries are very simple. For the dough you need flour, yeast, water, baking powder and, depending on the recipe, some sugar, salt or margarine. The rolled rings are then dipped in Pekmez, a type of grape syrup. An essential ingredient, emphasizes Sevda Yildirim. It gives the salty pastry a slight sweetness. "The basis of the pastry is a yeast dough with a slightly sweet aroma," summarizes an Edeka recipe. The sesame seeds, in which the donut is rolled before baking, contribute a tart note.
The bakery saleswoman takes one of the sesame rings and points to the places where the simit strands have been intertwined. When baked, they turn white and form the ring pattern. "This shows that the simit has risen nicely and isn't sticky," she explains. Consistency is at least as important as taste. The sesame ring should be nice and crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside – but not too soft. "Otherwise it might not be done," says Sevda Yildirim. The inside should feel slightly crisp in your mouth.
"Crispy" means simit literally translated in the Turkish region of Izmir: There the pastry is also known under the name "Gevrek". By the time of the Ottoman Empire - when simit first appeared - the sesame ring spread beyond the borders of Turkey. In many countries in south-eastern Europe, the simit has been preserved as a culinary remnant. In Greece it is known as "Koulouri", in Bulgaria and Macedonia as "Gewrek", in Serbia "Đevrek", in Romania as "Covrig".
However, the Simit only has the status of a folk pastry in its country of origin - which is not only made clear by the fact that there is a separate Simit chamber. The sesame ring is primarily a part of Turkish culture. The "Süddeutsche Zeitung" calls it the "lowest common denominator": it is eaten by the poor as well as the rich, believers as well as unbelievers, Kurds as well as Turkish nationalists. Even President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a connection to Simit: He is said to have sold the sesame rings on the streets of Istanbul when he was young.
In the metropolis, the sesame ring is still omnipresent today. On the streets of Istanbul, the simit can be found – just like in the old days – mainly at mobile simit vendors ("simitci" in Turkish). The red carts are on every corner and are an integral part of the street scene. From time to time you also come across vendors who carry the donuts piled up on wooden trays. "Our simit tastes like it does in Istanbul," says Sevda Yildirim.
Many of those who shop at the "Simit Factory" are regular customers and complain that the baked goods in other shops don't taste good, that they are too hard or too dry. "Some come here from other cities and even from Turkey," says the saleswoman. These are usually people who go on holiday in Germany, visit their families and sometimes stay for several months at a time. "They even take our Simits back to Turkey." Google ratings that say "Hamburg's best Simit" or a "real insider tip" agree with Sevda Yildirim.
What is it that makes Simit here so special? "It depends on how you bake it - and whether you pack your feelings into it," says the saleswoman. The boss loves baking. Every day at five o'clock in the morning he stands in the bakery with a smile on his face. "You have to have this will and this desire. You notice that - it tastes different." It was also noticed in the "Simit Factory" that the sesame ring is also becoming more and more popular among Germans.
Many customers are now rejecting the classic white flour rolls that are on the shelf next to the flatbread and explicitly want the Simit, even if it costs a few cents more. "Even people who don't come from Turkey say Simit," confirms Ayşe Demir, spokeswoman for the Turkish Federation in Berlin-Brandenburg, to the German Press Agency: "You call it by its name - like pide or kebab." This is important for the Turkish community, says blogger Orhan Tançgil. Calling things by their correct names helps create identity. Culinary success stories like the Simit also tell of "how the Turkish community has arrived over the decades since the first days of guest workers," summarizes the "Tagesspiegel".
"Turkish food is often greasy and heavy, but simit is light," says Sevda Yildirim, explaining the pastry's popularity. In Turkey, sesame rings are usually eaten for breakfast (with feta cheese, tomatoes, olives or as a sweet version with jam and fruit). Even more often, however, the donuts are eaten as a snack - at any time of the day. One can enjoy the Simit, for example, "in the morning on the way to work, for the crossing on the ship from Asia to Europe, with a glass of Çay (traditional black tea)", the "Istanbul Tourist Information" suggests.
In Turkey, the simit is now available in countless variations, from filled donuts to filled dumplings. Sevda Yildirim loves to cut the sesame ring in half, pan-fry one half, then add eggs, sucuk (Turkish garlic sausage) and gouda before flipping it over and layering the other half of simit on top. "But it also goes well with picnics or barbecues, with a dip and with olives," says the saleswoman. However, the Simit often tastes best in its most original, simple form: fresh, warm and straight into the hand.
Sources: German Press Agency, Edeka, "Geo", "Istanbul Tourist Information", "Süddeutsche Zeitung" (I), "Süddeutsche Zeitung" (II), "Tagesspiegel"