Tomatoes. Poached eggs. A few peppers. A little garlic. Need we say more? Shakshuka, the famous Israeli breakfast dish, comes in many shapes and forms, but they all share a common (and delicious) core rooted in the local Arabic cuisine that has since spread across the world.
Shakshuka is a staple of the Israeli breakfast menu. The dish is a mix of crushed tomatoes cooked down to a thick sauce and dotted with eggs which are then allowed to simmer in the mix, and usually includes some fried onions, garlic, tons of paprika, and a dash of hot peppers or cumin for extra flavor.
However, its origins date way before Israel was even established, to the local Middle East and North-African kitchens, where it is still a staple as well. Even the word shakshuka comes from Arabic, meaning a haphazard mixture (in this case: of vegetables and eggs).
Today shakshuka and shakshuka-like dishes are taking Europe and America by storm, recently being billed as a healthy foodie breakfast bowl.
Common throughout the Middle East, its modern form most likely originated in Libya and Tunisia, and it was Tunisian and Libyan Jews who first brought it to Israel in the 50s. In these North African countries, the dish is usually served directly in the hot skillet it was made in and usually involves an equal sharing of tomatoes and hot peppers with local bread on the side (in Israel, challah bread is used).
Others claim it originated in Yemen, where a similar look dish is eaten with the famous Arabic schug (zhug) hot pepper sauce.
As is common in Israel today, many in the Arab world also used—and still use—eggplants in addition to the vegetables, depending on the season. Each culture usually adds its own take: For example, in Morocco, it is served in a tajine and in Tunisia, it is usually eaten with local finds like artichoke hearts or lentils.
But its roots may even go back further. According to some food historians, it was born in the Ottoman Empire and spread out, eventually reaching as far as Spain. In Turkey, a similar dish called goti is said to have evolved from vegetables cooked with fresh garlic, lamb and mutton, and hard-boiled eggs, with the meat eventually being replaced by tomatoes and peppers.
In present day Turkey, the breakfast dish called menemen seems almost identical to what we now call shakshuka. Not to be confused with şakşuka, a Turkish salad made from peppers and eggplants that seems similar, sans the eggs.
Indeed, many shakshuka-like dishes appear throughout the world. In Spain, it is eaten with chrissos to make a spicy tomato and sausage dish and is also very similar to pisto manchego, which usually has eggplants and has the egg cooked sunny side up independently and then placed atop the final mixture.
It doesn’t end there. In Italy, a dish called “eggs in purgatory” (or Ova ‘mpriatorio) invokes a similar combination of red (tomatoes) and white (eggs) to create a tasty and healthy vegetarian breakfast.
And if you think about it, huevos rancheros is just an inverted take on shakshuka.
In Israel, so many different versions exist that it’s hard to even classify them as one single dish. Ranging from cheese shakshuka to green shakshuka based on spinach to beef shakshuka and from the healthy to the decadent, this dish is fundamentally versatile.
In this day and age, you can even make shakshuka with pearl barley risotto with beets, mints, and peas, highlighting exactly how and why this dish spread and developed across the world.