Shakshuka, the fiery North African egg and tomato sauce staple, has been discovered by North Americans. The most authentic version that I have tried in Philadelphia is prepared at Café Ole.
Shakshuka, which means “mixture” in Arabic, came to Israel in the 1950s with the immigration of Libyan and Tunisian Jews. These new Israelis prepared a delicious breakfast of eggs poached in sauce made with tomatoes and onions. They seasoned it with salt, cumin, and chili peppers. It was served with fresh, hot-from-the-oven, crusty bread.
As with many new dishes introduced to the Israeli diet, other Israelis usually tried this recipe for the first time during their military service. Soldiers from different ethnic backgrounds served together, cooked together, and tried each other’s family recipes. Shakshuka was easy to prepare with the staples supplied by the army kitchen.
Similarly, the proprietor of Café Ole introduced her Mexican chef to shakshuka. He has mastered the art of spicing it. I was expecting a bland, toned down dish. After tasting my first bite, I was certain that the cook was a native Libyan or Tunisian. Café Ole’s shakshuka menu is very creative, offering the Basic shakshuka of eggs in tomato sauce, the Moroccan shakshuka, with chicken and olives, the Vegetable shakshuka, with potatoes, spinach, mushrooms, and chickpeas, and a Vegan shakshuka, with tofu instead of eggs. In the spirit of true North African hospitality, the portion was so huge, that even after two of us shared it, there was plenty left over.