I never brought cool lunches to school. I actually can’t remember what I used to bring at all. But I do remember that Tali, one of the Israeli kids in my class, used to bring chocolate and peanut butter sandwiches. Chocolate and peanut butter! How was this a sandwich? But it was. And her mom (or dad) packed it for her almost every day.
This was before Nutella was on all the grocery store shelves. And it was a pure chocolate spread on one piece of bread, peanut butter on the other. Let’s just say that Tali was pretty popular at lunch time.
I assume the chocolate spread her parents had brought over from Israel was the the famous Hashahar which I just learned has been part of Israeli memory and taste buds for over 50 years:
The [Hashahar] factory is a Romanian invention. It was established by six brothers and two sisters from the Weidberg family – Yaakov, Shaul, Haim, Alter, Yeshayahu, Shabtai, Rivka and Elka – who immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s from Romania. The family settled in a hut in Kiryat Ata, near Haifa, which the eldest sibling, Yaakov, had organized ahead of their arrival. Among the make-work jobs they did, a few of the siblings specialized in the production of sweets at the Davidovich factory in the Ir Ganin neighborhood.
“They were a poor family and were looking for a way to make a living,” says Moshe Weidberg, Alter’s son, who today heads the factory together with others from the family’s second generation.
In the 1940s the brothers decided to join forces. They found an investor, bought a plot of land in the industrial zone of Haifa Bay and in 1949 opened the factory. At first they made a range of sweets. “They started with candies, chocolate substitutes and boxes of chocolates,” Weidberg continues. “But what really caught on was the chocolate spread.”
When candy imports increased in the 1980s, they decided to abandon most of their products and concentrate on the main thing. Today the plant, which has 50 employees on two production lines, also makes baking chocolate and cocoa powder, but mainly chocolate spread. It comes in three flavors: classic dairy, parve and nuts. “They are a traditionalist, modest family,” says Weitz, who is also connected to the family, by marriage. “They did not want to be an empire and they are not looking for gimmicks.”
The factory produces many tons of chocolate spread a month. Sales figures place it first in the chocolate spread market in Israel, ahead of competitors such as Elite and Ferraro. The company also exports goods to Australia, Europe and America. “In the United States our main competition is from peanut butter,” Weitz notes. “But recently there is an increased demand there for substitutes, because it turns out that many children are allergic to nuts.”
Now, eating chocolate spread in Israel feels like part of the cultural experience and a rite of passage to me. I’m sure there are other rites of passage that people will be more than happy to share about their teen tours of Israel, but let’s keep this blog about food, OK?
When I went to Israel for a month in college with Sar-El/Volunteers for Israel to work on an army base, some of my fondest memories include the three marriage proposals I got (in English, Hebrew and French) from soldiers driving through the fence pictured below as I painted it (if only the proposals would keep coming….), fixing nagmashim (non-armored personnel carriers), and late night conversations over spoonfuls of chocolate spread that Orit (we gave one of our fellow volunteers a Hebrew/Israeli name since she didn’t have one) bought in town as she shared with us her gems and pearls of wisdom. Orit was about 5 years my senior, so she had a lot of gems and pearls to share.
On a trip to the Netherlands last year, where I visited friends in Amsterdam and Den Haag (I love pronouncing it the Dutch way — with the guttural “h” ending), I learned about a very different version of a chocolate sandwich spread which is also kosher (dairy) and has a fair bit of history and local tradition.
De Ruijter has been around since 1860, making chocolate (and other flavors) sprinkles and flakes. Apparently the pink and white sprinkles (“muisjes”) are traditionally used to decorate cookies when a girls is born and the blue and white ones for a boy. The chocolate sprinkles and flakes are eaten on toast for breakfast. I didn’t have a chance to buy any when I was in the Netherlands since I had very limited luggage space, but when I moved to Cambridge I was thrilled to find that Cardullo’s in Harvard Square carries them!
Rejoice — another version of the chocolate fix. I bough a box of milk chocolate flakes and and every once in a while, I make a little midnight snack, recalling my time in Holland. The flakes have a slightly gritty texture when eaten out of the box, but they manage to keep their shape while melting ever so slightly on a warm piece of buttered toast, and the grittiness fades.
What I also find so clever about the DeRuijters packaging is that the opening for pouring out the flakes is in the shape of a classic piece of bread.
I think I’ll buy some sprinkles next.
In the Netherlands, there is a local Dutch kosher list available in a searchable format online in English and Dutch. The Dutch one seems to be more comprehensive for some reason. On the English list, these flakes and sprinkles are listed under the category “sandwich spreads” and are spelled “de Ruyter.” The pink and white sprinkles are not kosher for some reason — hmmm….gender discrimination? Unlikely. Probably the red dye.
I also have a friend in Amsterdam whose family runs a kosher grocery store and will gladly answer questions or help out with local kashrut issues. I can put people in touch if you’re going to visit and want help.