Shakshuka, the Unicorn of Breakfast Foods

Hunting & Gathering


In America, breakfast is an institution. Unfortunately, crispy bacon aside, traditional American breakfasts are as bland as toasted Wonderbread, which happens to come as a default option on the morning menu of the average diner. But breakfast does not have to be so spartan. Take shakshuka, for example. The dish has variations all over the Mediterranean and Middle East, but the basic premise is this: eggs poached in a tomato sauce spiced with any combination of cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, garlic, parsley, onions, jalapenos, ad infinitum and ad nauseam. The Israeli version, believed to have originated from North African Jewish immigrants, has become a national treasure of Israel. And this unicorn of breakfast foods, so rare in these parts, can be found at Fresh Start Café.

While it might photograph better if it were baked in a small cast-iron pan, an Israeli would scoff at the notion. “In Israel, they serve it inside pita bread,”says Fresh Start’s co-owner Hanna Schneider, “but the pita bread here [in America] won’t hold it.” Fresh Start’s shakshuka comes in a shallow bowl and looks like a saucy, savory delicious mess, with an aroma that whispers “breakfast” and “marinara” in the same breath. After the first bite, however, it diverges quickly from the more recognizable tomato-based foods of Italy. A dash of diced jalapeno gives it a bit of kick without inducing heartburn, while the crushed tomatoes, stewed bell peppers and onions make it more hearty than runny. Though Schneider swears she uses no salt or pepper, the average taste buds will question where so much flavor comes from. And then, of course, the poached eggs in all of their runny, protein-rich glory transform this dish into a breakfast ready to fuel sojourns into the sandy vistas of the Holy Land.   

Fresh Start Café, 630 Orange Ave., Sarasota,, 941-373-1242.

Photo by Tracy Rose.

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