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.
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