The Origin And Evolution Of Shakshuka, Israel’s Favourite Breakfast
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If you’ve gone out to a restaurant and had a skillet with eggs poached in a tomato sauce delivered to your table, you understand the appeal of the Israeli breakfast dish shakshuka. Bright yellow yolks swimming in a deep red sauce served with bread have the potential to brighten up most mornings. Although Israel loves the dish and serves it at restaurants often, its origins have been debated. Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Turkey all claim that shakshuka originated there.

Some historians believe that shakshuka originated in Yemen, while others say that it was the Ottoman Empire that contributed to the dish’s origin. Israelis hold the common belief that shakshuka originated in North Africa, specifically the Libyan-Tunisian region. During the Ottoman Empire, a dish of minced meat and cooked vegetables was called ‘saksuka’. Gradually, vegetables that came via new trade routes were added. When people from North Africa immigrated to Israel, they were financially unstable, and so a dish of affordable staples like eggs, tomatoes, and bread became a favourite in every household. 

Shakshuka reached Israel via Jewish immigrants from Libya and Tunisia in the 60s. But the dish only started to appear on menus in the 90s. Since then, shakshuka has become a global phenomenon, also popularised by British-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s book ‘Jerusalem’. 

There are many versions of shakshuka, some with minced meat, potatoes, artichoke hearts and broad beans. Green shakshuka uses a creamy green sauce made with tomatillos, spinach and jalapenos instead of tomato sauce. Shakshuka has evolved over time, with the addition or elimination of ingredients dictated by cultural and regional differences. The removal of meat was a significant modification to the dish. North African Jews started doing this as Judaism prohibits the consumption of meat and milk together. 

Chefs in Tunisia may use potatoes and beans in their shakshuka. The North African dish ‘matbucha’—a stew made with tomatoes, roasted peppers, olive oil, garlic and chilli—may be used as a shakshuka base. As eggs are used as the main ingredient when making shakshuka, the dish is common on breakfast menus in Western countries. It is also served in Middle Eastern countries for lunch or dinner along with bread and mint tea.

Today, shakshuka is very popular in Israel and also in the limelight in many other countries. In Israel, any dish with eggs cooked in a sauce is called shakshuka. Recently, shakshuka has been Americanised, with dairy-based ingredients like labneh and feta making their way into the dish. And with its Americanisation comes the reference “Jewish cuisine”, a term used to describe many types of food from the Middle East. 

Shakshuka symbolises togetherness. Israeli culture places high importance on bringing people together through shared meals. Multiple people usually share shakshuka, each dipping their portion of bread into the egg-and-tomato gravy, and this is significant as a marker of Israeli food culture and hospitality.