Shouk is an Israeli fast casual restaurant located at 655 K St. NW. The question of what constitutes Israeli food is, like everything to do with Israel/Palestine, a politically charged question. But whatever your politics, Israel is a country that is a mix of Jews who came from places as diverse as North Africa, the Levant, Iraq, Iran, Central Asia, India, Ethiopia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, North America, Latin America- you name it, alongside Palestinian Arabs. As such food in Israel represents a melting pot of culinary traditions, where popular foods including Turkish bourekas, Arab falafel and shawerma, Persian kabobs, Tajik plov, North African shakshouka, German schnitzel, Georgian khachapuri, and much more can be found alongside burgers and sushi.
Shouk, which is the Hebrew word for an open-air market (just like the closely-related Arabic word, souk), represents a uniquely Israeli, nay, Tel-Avivi style of eating. It represents fresh produce alongside distinctly Levantine specialties like hummus, labneh, tahini, and mujadara. More importantly, it is vegan; veganism has become a very popular (and somewhat aggressive) movement in Tel Aviv, with places like Buddha Burgers serving up vegan takes on fast food and places like Tenat and Nanuchka serving vegan Ethiopian and Georgian food, respectively. When we asked the friendly owner why he chose to open a vegan place he replied (in a characteristically Israeli fashion) “why not?”
Normally, I’m not a huge fan of Middle Eastern fast casual places where you just throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl and bastardize the region’s cuisines. But Shouk is different. The combinations are pre-set so that the flavors actually work together properly. The each combination can be ordered in a pita or in a bowl over mujadara, a Palestinian dish of rice and lentils. The different options combine Middle Eastern ingredients but are fresh and innovative. Falafel, refreshingly, is absent. I ordered the roasted cauliflower with tomato, scallion, tahini, and jalapeno oil over mujadara. Roasted cauliflower with tahini is very popular in Tel Aviv, so I enjoyed this homage to an Israeli favorite. It could have used a bit more spice (it was a little bland) but overall it was quite satisfying. I also ordered sweet potato fries with cashew labneh- labneh is a yogurt-like dish but Shouk makes it with cashews in order to keep it vegan. It was very tasty, but they should provide larger containers of cashew labneh- there just wasn’t enough for dipping. Aside from a couple of small shortcomings, this place is a promising and refreshing change from the Cavas and Rotis of the world.