Tomatoes and eggs. What culture doesn't have a dish with tomatoes and eggs? Uovo al pomodoro, huevos rancheros, and I am sure the French have done it in Provence. We've found it here in Israel and it's called Shakshuka, which literally means shaken up or mixed up(I googled it). But in the dish, the eggs are not shaken at all. They seemed to me to be cooked/poached in the pan with the tomatoes. Maybe the translation means that this is a meal that you can mix up with anything. It's good and hearty and perfect for the slight chill that was in the air when we walked to Cafe Noah, about 10 minutes from our apartment.
I'll get to the shakshuka in a minute, first I want to talk about the cafe culture in Tel Aviv. There are seemingly hundreds of cafes in the city and people hang out at them at all hours of the day. There is one cafe near our apartment which is packed every single time I walk past it. And it's really just a kiosk in the park. I have seen more cafes in Tel Aviv than I have in Paris.
Though the people of Tel Aviv party until dawn, they don't seem to drink very much alcohol. Where as in Paris you would see someone at a cafe in the late afternoon with a glass of wine, in Tel Aviv it is juice or coffee. Perhaps it's that 9pm espresso that keeps them dancing into the wee hours! All I know is that after a week or so here, J. and I have settled back into our American ways. We have been eating dinner kind of early for Tel Aviv...that means it is 7 or 8pm when we are eating, and we are usually among the first at the restaurant.
My usual method for finding restaurants in foreign countries is to just walk into a place that is crowded. If the crowds aren't dining until 9, then you have to be walking past some pretty good places. We found this out walking home last night from Noah; one of the empty restaurants that we passed on the way to dinner was now filling up on the way home.
So Noah is a cafe. There are maybe a dozen items on the menu, including two types of shakshuka. Of course one of us has to order that! There was no description on our English menu, just 'shakshuka' and 'shakshuka with bacon'.
Joan Nathan, my mentor for Israeli foods, writes:
Probably the most popular egg dish in Israel is shakshuka, one of those onomatopoeic Hebrew and North African words, meaning "all mixed up." The most famous rendition of this tomato dish, which is sometimes mixed with meat but more often made in Israel with scrambled or poached eggs, is served at the Tripolitana Doktor Shakshuka Restaurant in old Jaffa.
Doktor Shakshuka, owned by a large Libyan family, is located near the antique market in an old stone-arched building with colorful Arab-tiled floors. "When I was a young girl at the age of 10 I liked to cook," said Sarah Gambsor, the main cook of the restaurant and wife of one of the owners. "My mother told me that I should marry someone who has a restaurant." And she did just that.
Every recipe I have looked at for shakshuka is just different variations on the theme of tomatoes and eggs. You can use fresh tomatoes or canned, and a variety of different seasonings. All recipies for shakshuka start with a large skillet, in which you you prepare your tomato base. You heat up and cook down the tomatoes with your seasonings of choice. Then you poach the eggs in that liquid. Some recipies top with cheese, some top with tahini. Some recipies call for scrambling the eggs into the tomatoes. Last night's shakshuka was poached and topped with some kind of melted cheese and a very thin tahini sauce.
Simple, hearty and delicious, shakshuka is sure to become a staple in our kitchen here. With tomatoes being so tasty and cheap here, delicious and affordable are key ingedients I want to cook with. And since 'all shook up' kind of describes our lives right now, the name works too.