Stoned? Hungry? Confused about which of the many many strange Israeli snack foods to reach for at your local branch of AM:PM at 2AM? DIY Tel Aviv is here for you!
In the first of a series of posts, DIY Tel Aviv demystifies the strange and wonderful world of Israeli sweets, salty snacks and other trashy foods Tel Aviv stoners reach for in moments of weakness. Now you too will become an expert, which will save you both disappointment and FOMO – handy for visitors, exchange students and new transplants alike!
But before we go taste-testing the new, the adventurous and the bizarre, it helps to establish a baseline. We’ll start at the beginning, with stuff every Israeli knows about from age 0. Some of these are independently great, others are the sort of thing you’e only going to like if you’ve grown up on it. Such is the nature of the beast. If you’re vegan, don’t worry. Israel’s got your back when it comes to eating junk food. The vast majority of Israel’s classic sweet and salty snacks are 100% vegan, so you too can be an unhealthy slob, Israel style!
And now, let’s get acquainted with the usual suspects.
1. Bamba (vegan)
The mother of all Israeli snack foods and believed by most Israelis to be a truly unique Israeli invention even though there are several suspiciously similar European snacks that probably predate it by centuries. But what Israel may lack in originality, it makes up for with enthusiasm. This bright yellow, corn-based, peanut-flavoured snack is what every single Israeli grows up eating from the moment he or she grows teeth. They tell you it’s got some vitamins in it to make you feel better about feeding it to your kids, but whether or not it’s actually nutritionally valuable, Bamba has been proven to prevent peanut allergies in the Israeli population. Yeah, that’s right, this shit gives you superpowers. It’s also the perfect combination of not-quite-crunchy-not-quite-soft and literally melts in your month.
Obviously if you dislike peanuts or are allergic to peanuts, stay the hell away from this. If, on the other hand, you like peanut butter, say hello to your new best friend.
Apart from original Bamba and the questionable, pink, sweet Bamba (has no peanuts, tastes sickly sweet and should probably be avoided), you can get a range of Bamba snacks with fillings. If you like sweet (very sweet) & savoury flavour combos, you’ll probably enjoy these.
There’s nougat, which, as you’d expect, tastes chocolaty, there’s halva, the ubiquitous Israeli choice for putting a Middle Eastern twist on anything, and there’s the “punch-banana” flavour, which is very sweet, but not as sweet as it could have been. The “punch-banana” is an artificial strawberry-banana flavour that’s very popular in Israel. You can find it in ice cream, juice, sweets and…Bamba. All of the above flavours are also vegan. Other flavours also pop up every once in a while.
2. Bissli (or Bisli) (vegan)
A range of dry, crunchy snacks in savoury flavours ranging from the classic “Grill” to pizza flavour with lots of different ones in between. Alongside Bamba, you’ll find this snack on the table at any child’s birthday party. If you prefer your savoury snacks thicker than your average crisp / potato chip, this is a good range to try. In a weird Israeli twist, I’ve also seen people crush Bissli and use it instead of breadcrumbs / panko for covering sushi or schnitzel.
3. Beigale (vegan)
Israel’s little pretzels in a bag. Comes in a variety of shapes (sticks, classic pretzel shapes, flat, etc.). Salted or sesame versions. Not much to say about this one. If you like pretzels, it won’t disappoint. Don’t expect gourmet, though.
4. Man Wafers (vegan)
As a junk food connoisseur, I’m sure you are familiar with the concept of “crack biscuits” – something you just can’t stop eating till you’ve eaten far, far too much and feel sick. Well, Man wafers are Israel’s own crack biscuits. These are basically cheap, old school wafers that haven’t really changed in years, because they don’t have to. There are a few different flavours, including the divisive lemon flavour, but the chocolate flavour (red & white pack) is the one you want. These are the perfect companions for late-night studying, munch attacks or existential despair. There is absolutely nothing in these that’s good for you, but we love them anyway.
5. Tortit (vegan)
Of the many Israeli chocolate bars, Tortit stands out as probably the only one that’s both vegan and worth eating. In fact, it’s worth eating regardless of whether or not you’re vegan. It’s “chocolate” covered, has a biscuit inside, plus something that’s meant to be almond cream, but doesn’t actually taste overwhelmingly of almonds at all. It’s a popular / recognisable enough flavour to have spawned a few related products, including ice cream and “Baflot” wafers (see below). It’s also apparently remarkably similar to a Polish almond-chocolate bar.
6. Argaliyot (vegan)
These nostalgic, filled cookies are probably one of those things you need to have had from an early age to appreciate, though people’s childhood and / or army experiences of these are also what makes some Israelis loath them. They are soft, yet surprisingly dry for a filled pastry, but kinda moreish if you enjoy the artificially flavoured vibe. The fillings are appropriately chemically-flavoured for the genre and come in chocolate or strawberry, with the occasional “special edition”. I guess they’re good with a hot drink, as that could make them feel less dry.
7. Baflot (some flavours are vegan)
A little bit less trashy (and more expensive) than the Man Wafers, these are also childhood classics. Well, the chocolate and lemon flavours are (and are vegan), but then came all kinds of other exciting flavours including Tortit (vegan), cheese cake (not vegan) and more. These are definitely sweet and addictive, but although they come in very big packs, they have the advantage of being sealed in several separate foil bags inside, so you can pretend you’re not going to eat all of them at once.
8. Apropo (most flavours are vegan)
A weird, crunchy, salty corn snack shaped like the horn of plenty (it’s a cone). It was considered cool in the 90s and has somehow managed to remain relevant and socially acceptable by introducing all kinds of funky “international” flavours, as well as a (dairy) chocolate-covered version. It’s a perfectly pleasant crispy snack that’s also useful for having with dips.
9. Krembo (not vegan)
There are four traditional harbingers of autumn in Israel:
- The Yore (first rain of the new Jewish year)
- The beautiful white blossom of the squill plant (known as chatzav / חצב locally)
- Sightings of the wagtail bird that passes through Israel on its way to wintering in Africa
- The appearance of the delicious Krembo on supermarket shelves.
This sweet appears at the end of the hot Israeli summer, when it’s less likely to instantly melt. It’s vegetarian, but not vegan, made with marshmallow fluff (basically egg whites and sugar), an outer fake chocolate crust (it doesn’t contain enough cocoa to be legally referred to as “chocolate”) and a simple biscuit base. It comes in vanilla or mocha flavours (with occasional limited edition abominations like banana flavour) and can be bought individually or in large packs. It’s very similar to a very dubiously named German sweet and not entirely unlike British tea cakes (the Tunnock’s ones).
10. Pesek Zman (not vegan)
Knowing Israel’s lack of originality when it comes to chocolate bars, I feel that this classic chocolate and biscuit bar must have an international doppelganger somewhere, but I’m yet to find an exact match. I’ve read somewhere that this is Israel’s version of Kit-Kat, but that’s bull. The Israeli Kit-Kat wannabe is called “Kif-Kef” and isn’t particularly nice. Pesek Zman, on the other hand, is a thing of beauty. Like everything else in Israel, the original milk chocolate version is complemented by an assortment of other flavours – white chocolate, dark chocolate, halva-filled, peanut-butter filled and all kinds of wafer-roll filled versions. The name means something like “time out”, which is apt, as this is a solid go-to bar when it comes to wanting a sweet, chocolaty snack.
11. “Shokolad Para” (cow chocolate) (mostly not vegan)
Israel’s basic chocolate bar, available in milk, white, dark (a dairy version and a parve / פרווה version, which is vegan) and a range of other versions, including various cream fillings, popping candy filling and other random things. We all grew up on this stuff. While it’s not amazing, it’s kept popular by that fact and the fact that imported chocolate is often significantly more expensive.