Last week Gordon Ramsay arrived unannounced at an Auckland restaurant and ordered a plate of the house shakshuka. He seemed happy with the meal and no profanities were uttered – according to this report in the New Zealand Herald.
If you haven’t heard of shakshuka, a dish consisting of eggs nested atop a tomato-based mildly spicy sauce, you can expect to see more of it on Kiwi brunch menus this year – along with other Middle Eastern egg dishes being leveled at our most conservative meal of the day.
Shakshuka is actually of north African origin – think of the sauce like a simple tagine – with the name coming from the Berber language and meaning something like ‘all mixed up’. North African Jews brought this dish to Isreal, and it is now hugely popular in brunchtime Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and lapping at the heels of falafel and hummus as most relished national dishes. (See this article in the Jewish Chronicle, which also highlights the lively debate on its origins). Shakshuka is not just a Jewish food; it’s still very common as a sustaining one-pan meal in Mahgreb countries such as Tunisia, Algeria and Libya.
You can add different vegetables to the tomato sauce – capsicums are pretty important – and toss in Merguez sausage (as they do at Ima in Auckland, which Ramsay visited), feta, herbs, preserved lemon etc. You are aiming for a spicy-sweet and aromatic nest for your eggs to gently simmer in.
Back in New Zealand, other egg dishes with a link to the Middle East/Mediterranean have become more common on better café breakfast menus – Moroccan eggs with lentils (Takapuna Beach Café) and Turkish eggs with baba ghanoush (Queenie’s), for example. The flavour idea is similar – either whole eggs ‘poached’ by the sauce, or water-poached and served with the sauce/topping.
Kiwi Peter Gordon set off the Turkish Eggs phenomenon. He shook-start the London breakfast scene ten years ago by introducing, among other items, Turkish eggs with yogurt and chilli butter at The Providores and Tapa Room. Londoners, accustomed to the functional Full English dished up in greasy spoons, were amazed at being served breakfast with as much passion and creativity as you see at dinner.
New Zealand has long supported a buoyant social brunch culture but shakshuka and its cousins are a welcome addition to the over-executed Kiwi brunch staples, the Eggs Bene and pancake stacks.
A little warming cumin and a mild chilli/cayenne kick with our eggs is hardly a food revolution – not when we’re used to fiery exotica from all over the world at night. But we are creatures of habit in the morning, we like our change incremental. At what other meal would a bowl of soggy wheat cereal suffice, day in, day out, for years of workdays?
But once a Middle Eastern egg dish becomes the establishment of café brunch fare, whatever will come next?
Just take it slowly please, it’s breakfast.
How to make shakshuka
I followed Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe (of course) from Plenty. It’s reprinted here by the Guardian and you can watch a video of it being made here, also from the Guardian.
Where to eat shakshuka in Auckland
Ima Bistro, which specialises in Isreali and Mediterranean cuisine, is at 57 Fort St in the City. Shakshuka is served on their breakfast and lunch menus – though please note they don’t open weekends for these meals.