Simit & Smith
Words and Images by Pelin Keskin
The first memory I have of bread is my grandfather - dede (deh-deh) - picking me up from the nursery. He would stop by the local Turkish grocery store and then come straight to me. From there my dede would walk home and I would eat home by his side. I say eat because I would crack a hole in the crispy exterior of the Turkish bread and my little hand would go searching for clouds of interior fluffy dough. The bread, carried by a blue plastic bag, would be hanging somewhere around my dede’s knees and me in all my one foot glory would stealthily disembowel the bread all the way home. Even though my dede knew I was going to do this every day, he still never looked down to ‘catch' me. This way I felt like I was on some Splinter Cell shit.
The second memory I have of bread is married to my first memory I have of tahin pekmez. This is tahini mixed with grape molasses. My father would make it and then feed it to me and so it was granted the honourable name of “babanin çikolatasi” - dad’s chocolate. He would always come back from work late on a Saturday night with a round simit just to put it in the oven for a few minutes on Sunday morning, break off bitesize chunks, dip it in the tahin pekmez and give it to his tiny daughter dancing at the table from excitement. Happy meals never really did it for me. This was my weekly treat.
The ritualistic beauty of bread was further instilled in me when I was sent to the bakery every summer in Turkey. We would wake up to the ezan, lie in bed and watch the rays of sunlight hit the speckled walls and then run to the ovens. I liked it because it was the coolest part of the day and I had this warm thing in my hands, wrapped in newspapers. I could control this warmth. A few hours later the insufferable heat would weigh itself upon me and everything around me. Not so controllable.
I’m not sure if the owners of Simit & Smith expected to play such a big part in flooding my head with all of these memories when I arrived that morning. I swallowed my first mouthful of simit with feta cheese, tomatoes and bell peppers. This is the real fantastic four. This is the staple, bare minimum Turkish breakfast. This is what I snack on in between meals. I washed it down with çay, served in the small glasses and tried to stop my eyes from welling up. Before I go on, I have to mention that when we walked in, I saw an Arçelik tea maker. I’ve never seen them outside of my kitchen in London or the kitchen of a family member so I was mesmerised. Then I looked to my left and saw apple çay stacked up with Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi Turkish coffee on top. This place had memories plucked out of my brain and neatly lined up somewhere in the Upper West Side.
Simit & Smith offers simit, simit loaves, poğaça and additional western cafe staples for those that don’t understand nor care for rarity. I got greedy and had a poğaça in addition to my simit and they both stayed true to their names. The çay was brewed to perfection thanks to Turkish appliance innovation (pour one out for Vehbi Koç) however I wasn’t sure if it was bottomless. I think a part of me would have been heartbroken if I found out it wasn't, so I didn’t ask. I wanted to buy Hazer Baba’s apple çay but didn’t have any room left in my carry-on but please, to anyone that has never had it…please. Please. For me.
To the owners of Simit & Smith (Mehmet Gunar I’m talking to you), the only way your brilliant chains can improve is if they serve simit with a pot of tahin pekmez next to it. Maybe I am biased but I would be the happiest person for those few minutes of dipping and devouring. I may even dance at the table.
Simit & Smith has various locations in the NYC area, and one in New Jersey. Click here to see your nearest one.