Shuk is a market stall offering Tel Aviv-style soft pita sandwiches to hungry Londoners, inspired by memories of warm days abroad and family gatherings. Founded by childhood friends Richard Littman and Mark Jankel, Shuk brings the highest-quality ingredients and wholesome family recipes together to transport you right into the heart of the noisy, bustling markets of Tel Aviv.
What is the inspiration behind Shuk, and how did it start?
Richard and I, who are partners in the business, used to go to youth camps together as kids. And he was always getting into trouble, he was always really naughty, and I was really good. And we’d kept in distant contact until a couple of years ago when we reconnected. And it turns out his sister lives in Israel and I married an Israeli, and we both as kids spent a lot of time there because that’s where our parents would take us on holiday. We grew up munching on Israeli-style pita and hummus, and all that good stuff. And then when we met up again, I told him I’d love to do a Tel Aviv-style pita joint in London. We called it Shuk, which means ‘market’ in Hebrew, because we wanted to have that market-style hustle and bustle. My background is with Michelin-star restaurants, so it was about taking that training and applying it to a parred back menu. Richard brought the operational, financial know-how to my creative side.
“We grew up munching on Israeli-style pita and hummus”
We based Shuk around soft pita sandwiches. The pita you get in Tel Aviv is softer and fluffier, it’s steamed before we serve it. My wife’s family are Iraqi, and they left Iraq in the ‘40s and came to Tel Aviv as immigrants who didn’t speak any Hebrew, but they managed to set up these food businesses just outside the city and did really well. The flavours of those recipes that I tasted when we went to visit them, that inspired Shuk’s recipes. The fish tagine we make, for example, is a recipe my wife’s dad cooks every Friday. It’s a North African, spicy fish stew based on tomatoes and chilli. Then the beef brisket is actually my wife’s recipe; the first time I tasted it, it was so good I wanted to cry.
We base all our dishes on key ingredients used in that cuisine. There’s something called Silan, for example, which is the texture of honey but made from Medjool dates. We’ll use this date honey and kosher, sweet red wine, Baharat spices, and lots of other ingredients that are common throughout the Middle East. All our recipes focus on slow-cooked ingredients with lots of spices, which we then put into a pita which zingy favours like pickles, or chilli yoghurt, and loads of fresh herbs.
“We’ll use date honey and kosher, sweet red wine, Baharat spices and other ingredients common throughout the Middle East”
Alongside the pita sandwiches, our other signature is the Babka, which we introduced during lockdown. It’s a cake that’s as common in a Tel Aviv bakery, as a croissant is in a UK bakery. And I thought, if we provide the dough and all the toppings, as well as the mould they make it in, then it’s something really easy people can bake themselves at home. What I love about it is that it just smells insanely good! It’s got chocolate and hazelnut, cookie crumb, and then dark chocolate, and the dough is like a buttery brioche. It’s been so nice seeing people really enjoying these kits and posting pictures of them on Instagram.
We also wanted to do a series of collaborations with businesses we admire. The first was with Bubala, with whom we created a collaboration kit. The chef Helen at Bubala created a baked ricotta cheesecake with a Biscoff base and sour cherries. So we sell that as a double-kit with Bubala, which has also been very popular.
You mention working with local businesses, do you also source your ingredients from local shops?
All of our vegetables come from grocers in Borough Market, the meat comes from Ginger Pig in Borough market too, and the fish comes from that same market again. Then our more specialist ingredients come from the Middle East: the tahini we get from the West Bank, our spices come from a market in Tel Aviv. Our pita comes from a baker who only does pita, he’s just so passionate about it.
It’s also interesting that in London, this cosmopolitan food capital, it’s actually pretty hard to find places offering Israeli food.
You know, we call it Tel Aviv-inspired food because Tel Aviv is so cosmopolitan, it brings together all these cuisines brought there by immigrants from around the world. It’s starting to get a real reputation for being a cultural hotspot.
“Tel Aviv brings together all these cuisines brought there by immigrants from around the world”
We’re very passionate about people, about what we do and about our products. Our mission is for our food to trigger an emotional response for people. We want them to enjoy their eating experience, and for when they walk into our shop, for us to exude warmth.
What are your plans as the UK reopens?
We are going to be in Borough Market, where we’ll be getting some tables and chairs soon. We’re going to start doing small plates, like tapas-style dishes, what they call mazetim. The menu will change really often so that you can sample lots of different things. And our plan for the next couple years is to open two more sites, somewhere like Soho. We will be open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 30th July. We are super excited to show off some of our other dishes including the most epic hummus!