Discover more from Cultural Bites with Ruth Nieman
Let's start with breakfast ...
a founding tradition
The Israeli breakfast is a culture in itself and according to Jamie Oliver, “blows most breakfasts around the world out of the water.”
The tradition of the flagship Israeli breakfast, originated back in the early 1900’s on the collective farm, known as the kibbutz, where all meals were taken by the early settlers in the communal dining hall. Work started before sunrise toiling the land, so by mid morning a substantial breakfast often made from the farm’s own produce, was crucial to sustain and nourish, before returning to their labours.
In line with the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut, breakfast was characteristically a dairy meal, unlike so many breakfasts around the world, where meat, and particularly pork products feature. It was customary to be served as a buffet, a style which has since been adopted by hotels, restaurants and homes throughout the country, maintaining its universal reputation as the most important meal of the day.
Eggs, cheeses, chopped salads, dips, spreads and the ubiquitous staple bread have formed the basis for the Israeli breakfast over the millennia, with a side offering of culinary diversity and regional variations thrown in.
The breakfast egg takes its role very seriously, relishing with pride its place on the plate. Whether fried, poached, scrambled or beaten into an omelette, with or without melted cheese or cooked vegetables oozing out of its sides, it is always the hero.
Shakshouka, one of the most popular dishes on all breakfast and brunch menus across the country, is the North African dish of poached eggs that proudly perch on top of a richly spiced tomato, pepper and onion sauce that was once an Ottoman delicacy following the Columbian Exchange of vegetables in 16th century. With the influx of North African Jewish immigrants in the 1950’s, came the introduction of the Shakshouka, translated from the Maghrebi Arabic dialect meaning ‘mixture’ and each cooks own secret interpretation of family recipe. The variations of this simple and quite delicious dish, takes the form of spicing from cumin and paprika, heat from fresh or dried chilli’s and personal favourites of coriander or parsley that crafts the thick, opulent sauce. Common additions of salty cheese, olives and preserved lemons are strewn on top of the eggs, whose yolks have to been cooked to perfection, softly oozing onto the rich tomato pool before every morsel is mopped up by a hunk of bread.
The Israeli breakfast is undoubtedly a culinary culture, that is as much about the experience of social connection and emotional wellbeing, as it is about importance of starting each day with a well balanced meal, packed with the essential nutrients required for one’s physical and mental health.
Next time you are making breakfast for the family or having friends over for brunch, try making my easy recipe for a traditional Shakshouka that you can find in the Recipe of the Month section. However, make sure you have a loaf of whole grain crusty bread ready and waiting, to soak up the delicious tomato and eggy juices…