The Culture of Snacking
Like Americans, Israelis love their salty snacks, or “hatifim” (literally, “that which is grabbed”). Israelis can’t get enough of chips of all kinds, as well as pretzels (“baygala” in Hebrew), popcorn, and a wide variety of munchies. Whenever my brother comes to Israel he always likes to check out the new additions to the hatifim section in the supermarket. In an exaggerated Hebrew-accented English he will say, “Eh Yossi, vee verking on dis much much time, and vee finally done it.” Coming from the United States, where Jews are popularly depicted as working only in the professions, the idea that a smart, creative Jewish person could make a career in hatifim is a never ending source of merriment to him.
Before going any further, I need to highlight Bamba, Israel’s major contribution to the world of hatifim. Bamba is an irresistibly fun, peanut-butter puff; there is also Bamba Nougat, which is like a puffed-wheat version of a Reese’s peanut butter cup, as well as Bamba “toot” (“strawberry” puffs). Childhood and Bamba go hand-in-hand in Israel. Indeed, there is a theory that the relatively small presence of peanut allergies in the Israeli populace is due to the overwhelming presence of Bamba in the diet of Israeli children. Yes, Bamba acts as a kind of peanut vaccination for Israeli kids.
There are two unusual aspects of Israel’s passion for hatifim. The first is that precisely because hatifim are “grabbed,” Israelis do not deign to eat them with meals. For all intents and purposes, the difference between American and Israeli culture regarding this point comes at lunchtime. What is more American than a grilled-cheese sandwich and a bag of potato chips, and by extension, any sandwich with chips? For Israelis, potato chips are taboo at mealtimes—with a sandwich or with anything else. I once brought out a bag of chips to eat at work with my sandwich, and my colleagues gathered around me to watch with a kind of horrified fascination: Is he really going to eat chips with his lunch?
The second unusual aspect concerning hatifim is that in Israeli culture a hatif is viewed as the snack to give to kids. I would not go so far as to say that Israelis think of hatifim as “health” food, but neither is there a sense in this culture that “junk” would be the most appropriate adjective to use here. For Israelis, any visit to the playground begins with a bag of hatifim. Not a bag to be shared among two or three kids, mind you. No, each child is given a bag of their own—and sometimes, it is a sizeable bag. The practice is so ingrained that I once heard a mother say: “you don’t have to eat hatifim, there are also apples”; i.e., left on their own, this woman’s children might very well have thought that they were obligated to their hatifim.
Last year, at the conclusion of my then three-year-old grandson’s weekly sports group, out would come the bags of hatifim to mark the refreshment segment of the late afternoon. Now you don’t have to be a parenting expert to understand that three-year-old cuties who attend a nap-less pre-school, as was the case for Noam and the rest of these children, have a fairly limited amount of time, come 5:30 p.m., before they turn into very different creatures. So you do the math concerning hatifim at 5:30 p.m. and supper time.
The other day in the park, as her grandchildren were munching on their Doritos and their Apropos (the Israeli version of Fritos corn chips), I heard Grandma tell them: “Very good children, you’re eating so nicely.” It’s wonderful to be a child in Israel.
Teddy Weinberger is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.