Shakshouka is a popular breakfast dish in Israel. Shakshouka is a popular breakfast dish in Israel. Shakshouka is a popular breakfast dish in Israel. (Photo: Vladlena Azima / Shutterstock)

What is shakshouka?

Behold, the most delicious breakfast you've never heard of.

It's said that shakshouka, together with falafel and shawarma, forms a trifecta of sorts of traditional Israeli fare. But not many people know what constitutes this simple, savory dish.

Originally conceived in North Africa in the 1950s, the dish quickly caught on and became a staple of the emerging Mediterranean cuisine. But it's not just across that region where people are experiencing this zesty, satisfying meal. From the artsy, snug Aksum BYOB in Philadelphia, to the buzzy, brunch-centric Jack's Wife Freda, to a crop of new Mediterranean-themed eateries heating up the streets of London, it's clear that the global foodie contingent is welcoming shakshouka into the fold.

Commonly a breakfast menu item in restaurants across the world, shakshouka (also sometimes spelled "shakshuka") can be dressed up according to personal taste, with ingredients like Manchego cheese, diced cream cheese, chives and roasted eggplant added to the mix.

But first, let's hit the basics. What is this shakshouka that everyone is talking about?

It is basically poached eggs in tomatoes, red peppers and onion, served in a cast-iron skillet. The word is derived from the Berber word "chakchuka;" in neighboring dialects it is also called "tuktuka." The two most common versions are the Tripolitan, which is based on tomatoes, garlic and spices (predominantly cumin); and the Tunisian version, which adds onion and sometimes artichoke hearts. Degrees of spice vary by kitchen, and some places leave it to their patrons to decide, but overall, it is a dish with some kick.

Shakshouka dippingDipping is encouraged when eating shakshouka. (Photo: a_b_normal123/Flickr)

There is also a Spanish version called Ojja, where Mergez sausage is added to the concoction. While some have compared it to the Mexican huevos rancheros breakfast dish, it is not quite the same in texture or taste. The accepted way to serve this is straight from the skillet and with lots of bread. It can be a messy affair, and proper attire should be considered.

In Israel, Dr. Shakshouka is an institution in Jaffa, a town near Tel Aviv. While not actually an M.D., Bino Gabso has been serving the Tripolitan version of shakshouka for more than 20 years, making him something of a shakshouka expert. Aside from his signature dish, Gabso's restaurant also offers salads, stuffed vegetables, fish, couscous and a selection of grilled meats.

Back in the States, Manhattan's popular Shuka Truck has successfully penetrated New York's ever-evolving culinary palette with custom-made variations of the dish, starting with two eggs and sauce and allowing patrons to choose from an array of toppings. That's having it "your way" in the world of shakshouka.

From The Grapevine's own Israeli Kitchen has conjured up a couple shakshouka recipes worth trying, from the traditional Tripolitan style to a slight variation.

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