Historians don’t know exactly when or from whom shakshuka originated. The name, which can also be spelled “shakshouka,” is derived from the Maghrebi Arabic dialect and means “mixed.” The Maghreb region (meaning “west” in Arabic) covers northwestern Africa and includes Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Western Sahara, and Mauritania, though at one time it also included Moorish Spain. Tomatoes, native to South and Central America, arrived in Spain in the 1500s and spread across Africa in the 1800s. Though it’s possible that some variation of shakshuka could have existed before tomatoes crossed the Atlantic, the dish we know now — eggs poached in tomatoes — can’t be older than the 16th century.
Jim Chevallier, a food historian and prolific food history author, explained on Reddit that he tracked references to the dish in papers from the late 1800s. In 1894, it was referred to as a Tunisian dish; in 1896, it was referenced as an Egyptian dish, and; in 1899, it was noted as a Turkish dish. In the book, “King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World,” renowned cookbook author and journalist Joan Nathan attributes its origin to Ottoman North Africa. Jews emigrating from the Mahgreb to Israel are said to have brought the dish to the Middle East. Today, it is an incredibly popular breakfast and lunch dish in the region — and increasingly popular worldwide.