Tomatoes and eggs: so simple, so tasty. What’s the secret charm of shakshuka, one of the Israel’s most popular dishes and one of the few that can be enjoyed morning, afternoon and evening? Maybe it’s the simplicity and ease of preparation, or the comforting warmth and unsophisticated sauce. It may be the pleasure of soaking up the sauce with bread or pita. Or perhaps the explanation is simpler: The combination of eggs and tomatoes is just a delight to the palate.
Shakshuka came to us from North Africa (both Tunisians and Tripolitanians claim credit), but the person who put it on the local culinary map was Jaffa’s famous Dr. Shakshuka.
Since then our culinary scene has undergone numerous changes, and today’s shakshuka is not what it used to be. Now you can find it in gourmet cafes as well as workers’ restaurants, and it comes in a variety of versions, with multiple additions, including spinach, cheese, frankfurters, meat and just about anything else.
We embarked on a tour of Tel Aviv to find selected examples of the numerous genres, and examined the differences in sauces, the sliced tomatoes, the spices, the bread, and of course the tasty additions. Here are nine versions that hit the spot.
Upscale morning: Café 65
The breakfast here may not be suitable daily, but it definitely provides the feeling of a quick trip abroad or at least the weekend for two you haven’t yet managed to arrange. There’s a regular morning deal: You choose a main dish from the menu, and then can be dazzled by the high-quality, varied buffet. One of the main offerings is a green shakshuka with spinach and mangold, accompanied by goat yogurt and sour cream that seem to imply “I deserve it, I’m on vacation today.”
If we’re looking for a kick of tartness and spicy seasoning in the tomatoes, here the experience is completely different: The dish is buttery, soft and rich, almost like creamed spinach combined with crème patissiere. Choose some of the tempting breads and enjoy wiping up very soft and creamy eggs.
Additional treats: The amazing buffet includes fresh salads, smoked fish, cheeses, spreads, fresh juices, sweet and savory pastries, healthy breads and more.
Price: 105 shekels ($30) per diner, including a choice of beverages.
Café 65, Rothschild 65, Tel Aviv
Pampering: Matriciana at Benedict
As befits a breakfast empire, Benedict offers a limited and on-target section of eggs with seasoned, sizzling tomatoes. We decided to focus on a portion of the shakshuka matriciana, which combines regular and cherry tomatoes, a generous amount of crispy bacon, eggs prepared any style, and gouda cheese with touches of Parmesan. If the description doesn’t make your stomach start to growl, trust the aroma to do so.
This is a surprising and enjoyable dish, which all the surrounding treats turn into a real meal. Benedict had the sense not to pile on dominant spices, but allow the smoked bacon and gouda upgrade the entire concept – and your expectations. In short: We recommend eating when your next destination includes sprawling on the sofa.
Additional treats: We hope for your sake that you didn’t come here to count calories. The famous basket of breads, accompanied by soft butter, jam and Nutella, come with your order, together with home-made pesto, dips and a refreshing green salad.
Price: 69 shekels, including a choice of beverages.
Benedict, Rothschild 29, Tel Aviv
In transit: Tunisian Sandwich Center
The world is divided into those who think shakshuka always belongs in a skillet, and those who like it in a sandwich. We’re willing to accept any tasty version, regardless of religion, race, gender or carbohydrate. In the Tunisian Sandwich Center in south Tel Aviv they don’t waste the customers’ time, and offer a large number of quick and satisfying baguettes, including ordinary shashuka or shakshuka with merguez sausage.
Although the eggs are prepared in advance, there is a quick, efficient turnover of diners, so they maintain their juicy tenderness, with no burnt flavors. The end result is a simple, homey sandwich, without superfluous liquids, combined with a touch of pickled lemon and a spicy readymade salad – everything you need when you’re hungry at lunchtime.
Additional treats: Whether you eat it there or take your food back to the office or your car, you’ll get a small bag of green and black olives and mischievous shipka pepper.
Price: 18 shekels in a white baguette, 19 in a whole wheat baguette.
Tunisian Sandwich Center, Hapatish, corner of Shocken 9, Tel Aviv
The spicy one: Mergeuz at Shakshukia
Eight different types of shakshuka, a warm, simple design and Oriental music that blends with the aromas – the Shakshukia on Ben Yehuda Street is probably the best place to go to if you feel like playing it safe. Not only is there a variety of additions (chickpeas, eggplant and parsley, goose breast and more), but here you can choose the degree of spiciness you prefer on a scale of 1 to 5, and have your eggs soft, medium or hard-boiled.
We decided this time on a spicy shakshuka with good merguez frankfurters and medium-cooked eggs, which arrived perfectly done, just as shakshuka should be. We think the secret is a profound and uncompromising spiciness that isn’t scalding or unpleasant. The relatively large pieces of sausage come with fresh tomatoes, lots of peppers and onions in small cubes that don’t dominate the texture.
Additional treats: Old-fashioned black bread, tahini, and if you smile a little you may get a chaser. Who knows?
Price: 49 shekels (a classic shakshuka, 37 shekels)
Shakshukia, Ben Yehuda 94, Tel Aviv
Vegan and surprising: Anastasia
The vegan café on Frishman Street has made a name for itself, and rightly so. At Anastasia they treat every ingredient and dish seriously, far from the sloppy image often identified with places of this genre. The menu is broad, rich and interesting, doesn’t include many items disguised as something else (anyone for bread steak?). There are lots of salads, healthy grains, sandwiches and morning options – under which you’ll find a slow-cooked tomato shakshuka with garlic, spinach, polenta balls and tofu, which proves you don’t need eggs to feel satisfied. The seasoning is moderate, the spinach enriches the base, and the somewhat coarsely cut vegetables add some more interest.
Additional treats: Tahini, smoked eggplant cream and cashew labaneh, and you can even ask for gluten-free bread.
Price: 54 shekels (we’d be happy if that included a beverage in the early part of the day).
Anastasia, Frishman 54, Tel Aviv
The pretentious one: white shakshuka at Mashya
Yossi Chetrit’s fine restaurant does things in a big way in the morning, too. You’ll find a colorful, high-class buffet and a menu of main courses based on eggs in many shapes and forms, including vegetable frittata with hubeiza (mallow), eggs Benedict in a croissant and of course the object of our mission. You can go for red shakshuka with paprika and coriander, but if you’re getting it directly from the chef, try the white dish concocted on a base of cream, spinach, mushrooms, parsley, two eggs and a touch of truffle. To make the whole story a little more sinful, the dish will come with a sweet challah from the taboun.
Additional treats: an abundant Mashya-style buffet: salads, spreads, pastries, smoked fish, sausages, granola, fruit, baked goods from the taboun, muffins, cakes and cocktails for an additional charge. Brunch is served every weekday from 10 to 11 A.M. (you can sit until 12:30), and on Friday from 11:00 A.M. to 2:30 P.M.
Price: 88-98 shekels, depending on the main course.
Mashya, Mendele Mocher Sfarim 5, Tel Aviv
Atmospheric: Shukshuka in the Carmel Market
The small place in Kerem Hateimanim opened in 2015, when it offered almost 10 different types of shakshuka. Since then the open stall has adjusted to the area and naturally made changes in the menu as well. Today you’ll find mainly dishes that correspond to the energies of the market and encourage another drink in the middle of the day: small fried fish, souvlaki, light salads and a small and exclusive category of shakshukas.
The home-made recipe here may not knock you off your feet, but when you’re looking for light Israeli comfort at the outskirts of the bustling market, this is definitely a good option. Anyone who has trouble with coarse pieces of hot tomato will find the portion particularly user friendly, with a uniform texture that’s not too heavy and a pleasant spiciness of fried green pepper. And of course a bit of liberated market atmosphere and a charming staff that will serve you with love.
Additional treats: Suri olives, tahini, spicy torshi (pickled vegetables) and simple and tasty white bread from the nearby bakery.
Price: 38 shekels.
Shukshuka Simtat Hacarmel 30, Tel Aviv
Shakshuka in a bread bowl: Bread Story
What do they do in a place that specializes in bread and also serves shakshuka? Just what you think. The café on Dizengoff Street makes sure to maintain a standard, light menu that caters to everyone. Although the first impression feels like something of a gimmick, the relatively classic recipe manages to surprise, and the way they serve the food turns out to be convenient and smart. The bowl of fresh bread does a good job of holding the cooked dish, absorbs the liquids as necessary and stays crisp even when you get to the bottom. The use of cumin here is relatively prominent, there’s lots of onion cut into bite-sized strips, but a prominent presence of gamba may not please everyone.
Additional treats: There’s already bread here, of course. Along with it you’ll get a small saucer of tahini, a pickled lemon (not home-made but serviceable), and a chopped vegetable salad.
Price: 56 shekels.
Bread Story, Dizengoff 88, Tel Aviv
Old school: shakshuka with Bulgarian cheese at Caspi
In a place where you “wipe” hummus, nosh felafel and have malabi (a milk-based pudding perfumed with rosewater) for dessert, there should also be a decent-sized and safe portion of good old Israeli shakshuka. Chef Yaniv Caspi isn’t concealing state secrets or unusual ingredients, but that’s probably additional proof that good shakshuka is sometimes only a matter of the dosage and a steady and confident hand. The base, except for fresh (and peeled!) tomatoes, begins over a flame with olive oil, generous slices of garlic, sweet paprika, spicy pepper and a touch of cumin (and note that this time the onion is omitted). When it’s served they add a few cubes of Bulgarian cheese and a handful of chopped fresh parsley. The result is a comforting Mediterranean skillet that is both heartwarming and appetizing.
Additional treats: Pickled vegetables and pitas.
Price: 35 shekels for the classic, 37 for a version with Bulgarian cheese/eggplant/chick peas.
Caspi, Kikar Masarik 1, Tel Aviv