Traveling from Southeast Asia, my boyfriend, Mike, and I experienced major sticker shock when we hit the Middle East. Eight dollar rooms and three dollar meals had quietly spoiled us. Sure, the beer tasted like water, but it was cold and abundant so we didn’t complain. Arriving in Israel, the price of beer alone was enough to send us into anaphylactic shock. We quickly realized we would need to redefine traveling on a shoestring budget.
It was our fourth day in Tel Aviv; our fourth day of walking past trendy restaurant after trendy restaurant; our fourth day of cooking pasta with butter when I saw it: a small sidewalk bistro with giant, laminated pictures of the menu. It was the kind of generic place guidebooks advice you to avoid; however, hypnotized by the $6 dollar price tag and still full of cheap wine from the night before, I found myself running towards it in slow motion a la the Griswold family towards Wally World.
Smack in the middle was a saliva-inducing photo of eggs baked in a savory tomato sauce with warm pita to mop it up. Yes, please! After eagerly pointing to the picture and assuring the server that I could absolutely handle my very own serving, he placed two large black skillets in front of us bubbling with hot, garlic-y goodness. Had we just discovered the world’s best hangover food?
After a ladylike display of dropping my face into the saucepan like it was a trough, the owner jokingly complimented me on wiping my pan clean. Genuflect when you say that, fella. Stuffed and happy, we were eager to know what we had just eaten and how exactly we could recreate it.
In broken English, he explained that Shakshuka means “a mixture” or “all mixed up” in Arabic slang. While there doesn’t appear to be a definitive answer, the dish is believed to hail from Tunisia and was — and still is — popular throughout North Africa before making its way to Israel. Prepared in a variety of ways – check out Delicatessen on Yehuda Halevi Street for a yummy twist on the traditional recipe – the one constant seems to be eating it directly out of the pan it was prepared in.
Enamored with this new wallet-friendly find, we ate it for breakfast every day for the rest of our stay. Breakfast is a leisurely affair in Israel and you can find Shakshuka on nearly every menu. There’s even a restaurant called Dr. Shakshuka at the Jaffa flea market. Also, Manta Ray, whose restaurant tagline is “incurable optimism,” whips up a lovely version. But it’s equally fitting for lunch or dinner and the perfect social meal to share among friends.
With minimal ingredients and prep time, it’s also a quick and easy travel meal to pull together on the road. From Paris to Patagonia to my parent’s kitchen in Virginia, my boyfriend cooked it to rave reviews (check out his recipe below!) And as the dishwasher in our relationship, I appreciate a delicious meal that doesn’t require a lot of cleanup.
By Mike Pusey, mentioned in the story
1 – Whole chopped onion
3 – cloves of garlic minced or smashed
4 – chopped large tomatoes
2 – Tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon Salt
Warm bread of choice for dipping
Bring olive oil to medium high temperature. Sauté onions and garlic till soft. Add the tomatoes and smash to a paste while heating. Add paprika, cumin and salt to the mixture. Stir to mix. Reduce heat to medium and let the sauce cook down to a thicker consistency. Add cayenne and black pepper to taste. You can also just buy ready-made tomato sauce.
With a large spoon make an indentation in the sauce for the first egg. Crack the egg directly into the indentation in the sauce. Repeat for the remaining eggs. Cover and let the eggs cook to a soft yolk for dipping. Remove from heat, top with cilantro and serve. Best enjoyed directly out of the pan you cooked with.
Have you savored Shakshuka? What was your experience like? Please share in the comments below.
By Abby Sugrue
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