Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Israeli Foods Not To Be Missed: Bamba

Snack food is always a good measure of a culture, after all it is not too hard to imagine an anthropology dissertation about American life based on what’s available in the chips and dips isle of the local Stop and Shop? So if you are headed to Israel or just want to get a taste for Israeli culture, I recommend some easy exploring of the world of Israeli snack foods - many of which can be found in the US and Canada and most of which are available via the Internet. Israel, for many years culinarily isolated from the snack foods of the west, developed its own quirky versions of munchies. Sunflower, pumpkin seeds and watermelon seeds are very popular as are sesame crusted pretzel known as bagelach or little bagels. Potato chips on the other hand are not an Israeli strong suit not taking off until the early 1990s when Israeli food producer Elite contracted with Pepsico to produce Ruffles potato chips.

One of the most unique and classically Israeli snack foods is Bamba. Made by Osem one of Israel's oldest foodstuffs manufacturers, bamba crunches like a cheese puff but is fully peanut in its flavor. According to the company website, when this snack was introduced in 1963 it was sprayed with cheese, but the following year, presumably because of less than stellar sales, Osem changed direction and found a hit with a peanut puff.

Despite the fact that the peanut butter sandwich is almost completely unknown in Israel, this peanutty snack is a favorite among children and parents alike. Parents have generally bought into the marketing that suggests that this vitamin enriched sugar processed foodstuff might actually be good for the little ones. (In a lovely ode to Bamba on The Jew and the CarrotJeff Yoskowitz touts the virtues of Bamba for the glutton intolerant.) But it seems likely that the kids like it for the mouth feel, crunchy and mushy all in one bite.

On the other hand it could just be the heavy marketing. In 1992, Osem introduced the Bamba Baby who along with his signature song permeates the airways and visual space of childhood culture. Bamba Baby may be found on balls, games, crayons and so on.

Me, I don't much care for the taste of Bamba or maybe it is just that Baby Bamba with his eerily large head jus
t creeps me out?

photo credits:,,

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