A sizzling supper

No two shakshuka dishes are the same.

Shakshuka (photo credit: Amy Spiro)
(photo credit: Amy Spiro)
When my friends and family heard I’d be testing different shakshukas around the city this month, many expressed the same sentiment: “Shakshuka? But it’s just eggs and tomato sauce.”
Well, sure, and ice cream is just cream and sugar, while bread is just flour, yeast and water. There are of course about as many ways to prepare shakshuka as there are opinions on the matter, and I tasted six fairly different offerings in my travels.
There seem to be two main schools of thought when it comes to shakshuka. Either a big simmering pot of the dish that’s around all day, served to you on a plate or in a bowl – favored by the more traditional establishments – or one cooked and served directly in a skillet or frying pan, seen more in trendy coffee shops.
Virtually all shakshuka seems overpriced to me, considering the components, though some are more than double the price of others. While I’d like to have been able to award the highest grade to a cheap offering, especially considering the dish’s humble origins, it seems that even with shakshuka you get what you pay for.
All tested establishments are kosher.
Tmol Shilshom: A
This trendy cafe/bookstore is not a place one would instinctively think to look for a down-home dish like shakshuka, but it does it excellently. A rich, velvety tomato sauce with big chunks is paired with perfectly poached eggs, as well as crusty bread and salad. Of course, for NIS 42, I could make about eight dishes of shakshuka for me and my seven closest friends.
NIS 42
Other varieties: eggplant and goat cheese or spinach
5 Yoel Salomon Street (through the alley)
Shosh Cafe: A-
A popular cafe in both Katamon and Rehavia, Shosh is known for its innovative salads, but don’t overlook its two varieties of shakshuka. The traditional variety has a rich tomatoey sauce and is served still sizzling in a castiron skillet. The eggs are perfectly poached, though the dish is just a touch on the watery side, but served with bread to sop it all up. The “green” version is made with spinach and cheese, and, in my humble opinion, needs a new name as it doesn’t resemble shakshuka at all.
NIS 38
Other varieties: spinach
31 Keren Kayemet Street and 26 Halamed Heh Street
Pinati: B+
Only is Israel is a nationwide chain restaurant also a venerable historical institution. Pinati – which now has almost 20 locations – has been serving up local comfort food for almost 40 years. It dishes up a portion of shakshuka with a thick spicy sauce, with a texture reminiscent of matbuha, surrounding a nicely cooked egg and a bit.
The sauce had huge pieces of garlic in, and though they’d been cooked long enough to be tender, the flavor overall was a little too strong. It certainly receives the best-value-for-money award, and is served with pita bread and pickles.
NIS 20
Eight locations in Jerusalem
Itzik’s Place: B
I’m the kind of person who likes to have her cake and eat it too. So since one of the shakshuka options at Itzik’s Place is half-and-half – half tomato and half spinach – I jumped at the chance. The spinach half wasn’t particularly inspiring – mostly raw spinach leaves topped with globs of mozzarella. The tomato part of the dish had a sauce with big junks that was the slightest bit watery.
The eggs were fairly well cooked, with one very small raw spot. Served with bread and salad.
NIS 38
Other varieties: spinach, half-and-half and balkan
33 Bethlehem Road
Azura: B
Tucked at one end of the Iraqi shuk in Mahaneh Yehuda, Azura is a refuge for the hard-working lunchtime crowd, with its hearty traditional Middle Eastern fare. I was warned before ordering that the shakshuka was spicy, and they were not wrong. But the heat was just on the bearable side, even for my decidedly Ashkenazi palate. The sauce is richly flavored, but fairly swimming in oil, and the eggs were a touch overdone. Served with pita bread and pickles.
NIS 25
4 Ha’eshkol Street (up the narrow stairway)
Shakshukia: C
When you dine at a restaurant that only serves one food (and is named for it), the hope is that it knows how to perfect that one dish. But at Shakshukia – which is what the Lion’s Den bar has turned into during the day for the past three months – this is not the case.
Though the dish arrived looking picture perfect, the eggs were mostly raw. I don’t have a problem with runny yolks – but raw whites, not so much.
When I sent it back, they simply recooked the version I’d poked through – but not that well – instead of providing a new one.
Once I convinced myself to eat it, I was turned off by the huge pieces of barely-cooked garlic dotting the sauce, which was fairly thick and hearty. Though the dish, bread and pickles is a fairly good deal, I’d rather take my money elsewhere.
NIS 20
Other varieties: spicy, mushroom and hot dog
5 Yoel Salomon Street
Next month I’ll be taking to the streets and tasting Belgian waffles around the capital. Have a favorite in Jerusalem? Let me know at triedandtastedjpost@ gmail.com.