Several years ago....
(I love to start stories with "several years ago" because I know, as I get older and my perception of time becomes more distorted, that the actual time period that I am imagining is — in reality — much further in the past that I remember. That's why I favor the adjective "several." It's non-specific and I don't spend a lot of time wracking my failing memory over how long ago it really was. That's why I feel pretty safe in using it. My concept of the time period may differ from yours, but we both understand that this incident did not begin yesterday. Now.... if you are still with me.... I'll continue...)
Several years ago, my wife and I accompanied my in-laws to a restaurant in Northeast Philadelphia. This seems pretty insignificant, so let me explain why this was a rare event. My in-laws and my wife (and to a far lesser and more lenient extent — me) keep kosher. Philadelphia is notorious for its lack of certified kosher restaurants considering the size of its Jewish population. It ranks seventh in the United States and boasts 214,600 folks who identify as Jewish. (For goodness sakes, Philadelphia ranks 14th in the world!) Granted a very small faction of those actually adhere to the laws of kashrut. With this in mind, Philadelphia has seen kosher-certified restaurants come and go like flights at an airport. Most have closed for different reasons, but the biggest reason is lack of support. The Jewish community (at least within my community) bitches and complains about the "slim pickins" as far as kosher eateries go, yet, when one opens up, they will rarely patronize the establishment and it will invariably fail....only to lead to more complaints. The other reason for failure is these places are not run by business-minded people. They only exist to fill a void and are opened by folks who have never run a business before, specifically a restaurant... and running a restaurant is particularly difficult. So, these places end up being a mixed-up, unorganized mess. They are usually filthy, overpriced and staffed by rude people. Or as I like to say — "The Triple Threat." So, finding a nearby kosher restaurant that meets my in-law's finnicky standards is difficult. Almost as difficult as getting them to leave their house.
But, we found one.... several years ago.
It was briefly mentioned to my neighbor, who is Israeli, and unashamedly proclaimed to be the best producer of shakshuka in the world. Unfortunately, this promise led nowhere, as I was never invited to taste his shakshuka, not that I would have anything to compare it to. After bringing it up enough, my dear, ever accommodating spouse conceded to the following: if I could find a suitable simple recipe for the egg dish in question, she would agree to buy the proper ingredients and attempt to make shakshuka — just for me. So, we bought eggs and tomato sauce and peppers and onions and all the other stuff. I read and re-read the process for making the dish. Plans to prepare shakshuka were made and forgotten and made and forgotten again. And here we are, with a couple of ignored cans of tomato paste in our pantry and peppers that have long been chopped up and tossed in our evening salad and eggs that have since been consumed as part of a celebratory cake. And still I have not tasted shakshuka.
Surprisingly, two-plus years after the world was locked down by a global pandemic, the kosher restaurant in Northeast Philadelphia was still open for business. After so many years, my in-laws have become less mobile and less anxious to venture out into the big bad world. But, they do have to eat. Another relative offered to treat my in-laws to dinner at a restaurant of their choice in honor of their 67th wedding anniversary. With the choices slight, they selected (or perhaps "settled for" is more apropos) the kosher restaurant in Northeast Philadelphia. The plan was my wife would place the order, pick it up and bring it to her parent's house. As long as were were going, we'd place a dinner order for ourselves. And — goddammit! — I was getting shakshuka. All fifteen bucks worth! Still wary of its inclusion in the "Appetizers" section, I ordered some "assemble it yourself" falafel to split with my wife, in case one fifteen dollar order of shakshuka wasn't enough to satisfy my appetite.
Well, the moment of truth arrived. A moment I have played and replayed in my mind for years.... probably more years than I realize. Arriving home, I unpacked a number of nondescript white Styrofoam containers, popping the lid on each to identify the contents. The last one I extracted from the bag, by process of elimination, was my shakshuka.
Holy shit! LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT IT!!!!! Sure, this picture doesn't it do it justice. But you are lucky to get a picture at all! It sure didn't last long! There were four little poached eggs enveloped in a delicious mixture of sweet tomato sauce, spiked with spicy peppers and a blend of piquant spices bringing an amount of zesty heat that I savored. It was delicious! I mean really delicious and well worth the wait! I could have eaten twice... maybe three times... the amount I was given. Was it worth the fifteen bucks? Um... well it was well worth the wait. Isn't that enough?
Will I order it again? Maybe I'll try again to convince Mrs. P to make another attempt. We still have those cans of tomato paste and the expiration date is still a few years away.
Hit it, Kate....