The jailbird who perfected ‘shakshuka’ in a pan

Shakshuka, a North African dish of eggs poached in tomato sauce,
means “mixture” in Berber languages, and as the name implies, it is a simple
dish that anyone can make at home. Making it well, however, is a different matter. This is where Bino
Gabso, a.k.a. Dr. Shakshuka, comes in. Charming portrait in The Tablet by Dana Kessler.

Gabso is a celebrity chef known for his North African home-cooking
style. His Jaffa restaurant, called—of course—Dr. Shakshuka, includes dishes
like couscous, mafroum (stuffed
potatoes), chraimeh (spicy
fish), and lamb or chicken shawarma, as well as the signature dish that earned
Gabso his nickname. His trademark is the personal frying pan in which he serves
each shakshuka: “That’s my invention,” he boasted.

His establishment has been
feeding Israelis and tourists for decades.
This summer, however, Gabso is
busy with his new culinary venture, which he just opened in Tel Aviv. Bino
be-Pita (“Bino in a pita”) has more of a fast-food vibe. “It’s a casual place
and passersby can just come in,” Gabso said. “People are very happy that we
came to the neighborhood.”

Not to worry. The new
restaurant still has shakshuka on the menu.

Gabso’s parents immigrated to
Israel from Libya in the 1950s. His father opened a restaurant in Jaffa called
Tripoli, named for the Libyan capital where he had lived, which was also the
center of Jewish life in the country. Gabso, who was born in Jaffa by the name
of Yosef Binyamin Gabso, started working in his father’s restaurant at age 12.
In 1991, after his father died, Gabso took over the restaurant and redubbed it
Dr. Shakshuka. The restaurant, next to the Jaffa Clock Tower and flea market,
grew and grew. “I never thought I’d have such a large restaurant,” he told me.
“I have the courtyard in the middle, and gradually I took over all the places
around it. It’s like a piazza.

The story of how—and
where—Gabso perfected his shakshuka is well-known Israeli folklore: “In
addition to the restaurant, my family had a money-changing business, which I
also worked in,” he said. “Every time I closed a deal, I would come to my
parents’ house, and my dad would make me shakshuka in a pan.

 That’s where my
dream of making people shakshuka in a personal pan came from. This was the
1980s and changing money was illegal in Israel. People would get fines but no
one was sentenced to prison. Then I got caught and I got 15 months in prison—it
was a precedent.

”While in prison, Gabso started
cooking for the other inmates and for the guards. The prison would provide him
with the basic ingredients—eggs and tomatoes—and his daughter would bring him filfel chuma, the hot
sauce of Libyan Jewish cuisine. The recipe he perfected on a portable burner in
prison earned him the nickname Dr. Shakshuka, which one of the inmates made up.

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