Street food provides an important income and is a source of cheap and tasty food. In Greece, it made its appearance in the 6th century BC with the development of cities. Lentil soup was available in the Greek "agora", however eating while wandering around the market was not appropriate.
Ιn Byzantium street food trade became very popular. Big cities, specifically Constantinoupolis (modern Istanbul) offered street food to a huge influx of workmen, merchants, immigrants, foreign soldiers, and pilgrims. Among the goods, the street food sellers offered, were roasted chicken, sausages, baked carrots, roasted chickpeas, dried raisins, fresh fruits, small cakes, pasteli, and other sesame sweets.
Much of Ottoman Istanbul’s cultural and culinary heritage is the result of it, being the capital of Byzantine Empire. Street food was still there for those not very lucky to be able to get lunch at home. Cappadocians, Albanians, Romioi, Armenians, and immigrants from Epirus sold tasty fast foods. Among them, a type of sandwich called arnaout-tzieri, which was consisted of a piece of bread, stuffed with fried liver (tzieri), parsley, onion, and beans ala piaz, became very popular. The fried liver was a familiar street snack in Crete until 1930.
Today, despite the change in eating habits and places, street food remains very popular in both countries. The crucial factors for the selection of street foods seem to be the taste, quality, and freshness. Boiled or roasted corn, ice cream, chestnuts, pies, Greek gyros, and its Turkish equivalent doner kebab, souvlaki, etc. are among the favorite street delicacies.
Throughout Greece and Turkey, a ring of bread covered with sesame seeds is sold on street corners and in most bakeries. Children eat it in school breaks, people on their way to work, or after work on their way home. This ring of bread that is called simit in Turkey and koulouri or simiti in Greece is probably both countries’ most popular snack.
Greek word simiti derives from Turkish simit which comes from the arabic semiz, a loan from the greek wordsemidalis = semolina, hard/durum wheat. Koulouri derives from the middle age word koulouri(o)n, diminutive of kouloura ancient Greek kollyra = the circular bread which was eaten by the slaves.
According to Evliya Celebi, an Ottoman traveler and writer of 17th century, in mid-16th century 70 simit bakeries, employing about 300 bakers, existed in Istanbul.
The Minor Asian Greeks refugees brought with them their dialects, their cultural tradition and an extraordinarily rich culinary tradition that was an amalgamation of Byzantine, Ottoman and urban French cuisine. When they moved to Thessaloniki they brought, among others, the recipe of simiti. That’s why the simiti is also called koulouri Thessalonikis.
However, in Ottoman-occupied Crete simiti was already a street food.