What came first, the Shuk or the Shakshuka? There is hardly a café in Israel that doesn’t include a bit of shakshuka on the menu. With summer having well and truly bid farewell and winter creeping up on us (or is it? It has been unseasonable warm lately), it is time for something to warm up our hearts and spice up our spirits with this hearty dish.
The literal translation of shakshuka means “all mixed up”. Saying the name itself out loud can make you feel a little mixed up.
The dish is mainly made up of eggs, poached in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions and spiced with cumin, salt, pepper and whatever else you fancy. Originally coming from countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Morocco it became popular in Israel from the Tunisian Jews. Some people believe the dish was invented in the Ottoman Empire and spread throughout the Middle East – often served with a spicy sausage.
Two important rules come hand in hand with shakshuka
1) It must be served in a cast iron pan that it was made in – for the authentic look.
2) Use bread to mop up the sauce.
Apparently there’s this new version out there called Chamshouka. Instead of eggs, it is replaced with beef, nuts, onions and garlic. The more hipster café’s offer an option of “green” shakshuka. Sounds scary? Have no fear, it uses spinach to give it a green colour.
Although the dish is relatively inexpensive to prepare as it is comprised of eggs and tomato sauce, most cafes offer it at higher prices because of its talked-about reputation. Best bet? Order it along with an Israeli style breakfast and you will get your moneys worth – salad, bread, shakshuka, cheeses, yoghurt and most often a café hafuch (cappuccino).
Restos or cafes that offer great shakshuka include Shosh Café in Rechavia or Katamon, Café Café (this café chain can be found all over the place in Jerusalem), Café Rimon and my favourite – a small soup bar on Coresh Street called “Marakiya”. While their speciality is soup, they also serve a kick-ass shakshuka.
Despite its sophisticated appearance it turns out to be easy to make at home. Conveniently, it also extremely filling and healthy. Fry up an onion and garlic, add in some crushed tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and red pepper. Add in some tomato sauce/pasta sauce/tomato paste (whatever is lying around the house) and wait till everything cooks. Spice it up with salt, pepper, cumin, paprika and chilli if you like it hot. Then it’s time to crack in the eggs. It also tastes great with cheese sprinkled on top. Now all you have to do is wait till the eggs are cooked to perfection – i.e. however you prefer them, runny, soft or well cooked. Other veggies that are good additions to the shakshuka mix include sweet potato, parsley, spinach and eggplant. Now eat it straight from the pan with a chunk of steaming hot bread!