Now that Trader Joe’s has started selling Bamba, Israel’s iconic snack, it’s time to start taking the Jewish state seriously as an empire of edibles. Forget smart phone apps or Netflix shows: Start-Up Nation’s future is in snacks. And the beloved peanut-flavored puff is only the first step. It’s time now to move beyond Bamba and get to know the five Israeli noshes discerning American supermarket chains out to stock up on right now:
Bisli: If Bamba is Coke, Bisli is Dr. Pepper, a cult classic that never made it as big despite being infinitely more interesting and delicious. There are several flavors to choose from, including falafel—which looks like birdfeed and tastes not much better—but the flagship is Bisli Grill, which is shaped like fusilli and hits the tongue like a spiral of salt and joy. In classic Israeli fashion, almost everything about Bisli’s success was a complete coincidence. In 1977, with Bamba now a decade old and selling briskly, Osem, Israel’s food giant, decided it was time for another snack. The company had some old pasta machines lying around, and decided to use them to experiment with a new line of products. Unsure what flavor would work best, Osem’s engineers devised a purely scientific method: They made four different samples, placed each in a large bowl, and then marched to the high school across the street from their factory and offered the goods to the hungry teenagers there. The first bowl to be emptied, they agreed, would determine which snack needed to go into production. The kids, it turns out, were all right. But lacking a term to describe the new offering, the folks at Osem realized Hebrew didn’t really have a word for snack. They petitioned the Academy of the Hebrew Language, advocating for the word hatif, which comes from la’htof, to grab. It stuck.
Apropos: Fine, so they’re basically Bugles. But better! Another hit from Osem, it was introduced to the market in the 1980s. And if Bisli was targeting teenagers, Apropos, as the continental name suggests, was always a snack for sophisticated grown ups. First of all, it came in fancy small packages with shiny silver lining. Second of all, it encouraged Israelis to pursue dips of the non-hummus variety. And finally, it remained committed to spicing things up, issuing everything from a sweet-and-sour edition to a special caramelized onion flavor. An Apropo is thicker than Bugle, crunchier, and cornier, which means it doesn’t break as easily when you stick them on your fingers and pretend they’re claws.
Twist: You know that stuff Ikea furniture is made of, that thin wood-like substance that is light but surprisingly strong? I’m pretty sure that’s what Elite, the Israeli chocolate behemoth, uses to make its veteran chocolate bar. And it’s delicious: With layers of caramel and a thin chocolaty coating, it’s one of the healthiest snacks around, with relatively little fat and a surprisingly big taste for a wafer that could also double as part of a dresser.
Milky: Chocolate pudding on the bottom, whipped cream on top. How you eat it says a lot about who you are. Do you mix it all together? You’re probably not a person who should have any friends. Gobble up the cream first and only then the pudding? I’m sorry, but that’s too boring and life’s too shot. Delicately drill through the cream, carefully consume the pudding first, and then luxuriate with a good whipped treat? My kind of eater. The treat is consumed by a whopping 70 percent of Israelis, and is so beloved that when enterprising bloggers learned it was being sold in Germany at a much lower price, a major public outcry led to a populist movement that succeeded in making it more affordable in Israel, too.
Krembo: If we awarded Nobel Prizes for the things that truly mattered, if we celebrated snackhood instead of piffles like chemistry and economics and literature and peace, Krembo would win. Every year. Because there’s nothing like it: A biscuit, topped with marshmallow fluff and coated in perfect chocolate, it’s a treat for all seasons. It’s also a culinary mood ring of sorts: Feeling down? Hold it by the biscuit and nibble on the top. Bold? Eat the biscuit first, saving the gooey goodness for last. Giddy? Shove the whole thing in your mouth. Either way, it’s a delight, which is why Israel, a nation of 8.5 million people, consumes an astonishing 50 million Krembos each year.
American supermarkets, time to get busy.