Thursday, 18 April 2019
(Reading time: 4 - 8 minutes)

Shopping in Israel - An unique experience

Hebrew: עושים קניות בארץ - חוויה מיוחדת



Orderly lines, patient and polite cashiers, relaxed shoppers and obliging store managers! Are we in Israel?


You have maneuvered your way around the narrow aisles with a heavy shopping cart and you've been pushed and done a bit of pushing yourself and now finally you reach the cashier at the check-out.

A typical neighborhood supermarket will have 6 or 10 cashiers and probably only 3 or 4 will be working at any given time.  One of them will be an express till and one may be disabled friendly.  (Some newer supermarkets also have a self-checkout option)

When we use the word 'express' what does that actually mean?  We expect that an 8 item express check-out means exactly that - 8 items: a bottle of milk, a loaf of bread, a packet of cheese, a bottle of fruit juice, a packet of frozen spinach, a lettuce, a chocolate and a bottle of oil.   Years of shopping in Israel, has proven that this is not the case.  Israel has many brilliant mathematicians, but for some reason 8 does not equal 8 any more. In the Israeli supermarket 8 items equals:  two loaves of bread, a packet of cheese, a bottle of fruit juice, 4 packets of frozen spinach, a lettuce, 6 chocolates and 3 bottles of oil.  So in Israel 8 items actually means 8 categories.

What about orderly lines? We are used to 3 or 4 well mannered people standing, one behind the other, waiting their turn.  An orderly line in Israel is 2 well mannered people patiently waiting their turn  while all the other shoppers try to jump the queue.  A shopper will come up to you with one or two items and with sad eyes she'll tell you that she's in a hurry, she's late in fetching her child from school, she has to get back to the office or she may not even have an excuse except that she  only has 2 items whereas you have 106 and could we let her go first!  Whatever you decide, have your response ready and practiced.  If you don't want to enter into a discussion, turn your head away, pretend the person does not exist and swear in a foreign language!

The cashier ladies are mostly very pleasant.  They have a tough time - they have to discipline the shoppers and keep the peace but mainly it is their job to up-sell and get you to buy a whole lot of unplanned, extra and unnecessary items at the check-out.

In Israel there is no-one to pack your groceries or push your shopping cart to your car in exchange for a small tip.

Now, you've bought more than you planned, and this trolley is going to cost a lot more than you anticipated.

Payment Options

At the check-out till, you will be offered an immediate cash or credit card payment option or,  the option to pay on installments (tashloomim).  Most supermarket chains these days offer a club-membership card which entitles you to a few points or a small discount. You need thousands of points to get a 20 shekel store voucher.  Some of these club-cards are credit cards as well.

Supermarket & Store Shopping Hours

In the days of street shopping, before shopping malls sprung up, stores were open 6 days a week - Sunday thru Friday.  Most stores were closed between 2pm and 4pm - siesta time - and opened again from 4pm - 7pm. Stores were all closed on Tuesday afternoons and were open on Fridays till around 2pm.

These days, Tuesdays are just another regular shopping day and the afternoon siesta no longer exists.  Most shopping malls open between 9am and 10am and are open up till 10 or 11pm at night.  Banks and the post-office have their own hours.  Friday is a busy shopping day, so be prepared for long queues and agitated shoppers.

Household delivery services

A large percentage of the Israeli population do not have motor cars or convenient transport, so for around 25 shekels, supermarkets will deliver your groceries right to your front door.  This is a great service.  Tipping the delivery person is optional but recommended.  On-line supermarket shopping, offered by the large supermarket chains,  is very convenient as well

Product Labeling

Most, but not all items have English labeling these days.  If the product is manufactured in Israel, the English labeling is likely to be very basic.  Bad label translations, from Hebrew to English, are quite funny and make for delightful shopping moments.

Leading supermarket brands

  • Telma and Osem for dried foods.  Some of the Knorr products, we know from back home, are kosher and available here.
  • Tnuva, Yotvata, Strauss and Tara for milk and dairy products.
  • Zoglovek, Tirat Zvi and Yehiam for processed meats
  • Maadanot, Shloshet HaOfim and also Zoglovek for frozen, ready to bake, sweet and savory, pastry items
  • Elite for chocolates and sweets.
  • Sano and Nikol for paper products and cleaning materials.

Of course there are many other local brands offering top quality food and household items

Imported brands

You'll find Heinz, Hellmans, Nestle, Liptons, Barilla, Skippy, Oreos, Tim-Tams and a fair selection of other imported items

Hard to find items

Just some; Marmite, fish paste, Colemans mustard in a jar, Hirsheys and golden syrup.  There are a host of websites where you can order specialized items.  Shopping on-line is definitely growing in popularity.

Local House Brands

The leading supermarket chains have their own house-brands which are mostly a little cheaper.  Try them out.  Not all of them are fabulous but you might be able to save quite a bit if you are prepared to compromise.

Typical Israeli/Middle-eastern supermarket items

Favorite Israeli foods include felafel, hummous, tehina, boerekas, malt beer (non alcoholic), Crembo chocolate (similar to a "Beehive" - whipped marshmallow on a biscuit base, covered in chocolate), herbs and spices of the Middle Eastern kitchen like sumac, zaatar and hawaj.  Flavored fruit syrup concentrates for beverages (petel or- blackberry is best loved by Israeli children), silan - date syrup (can be used instead of honey or golden syrup), Bisli - a local crunchy snack tolerated before the invention of Lays and Doritos.  Shkadei Marak - soup almonds, eaten in soup or by the handful.  Some are full of tartrazine or E102 . Let's not forget  Beigela -  they have nothing to do with a bread beigel from the old-country. Actually, they are salty pretzels in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.  By far the most popular snack, sought after in many countries abroad, has to be Bamba.  Bamba is a puffed wheat snack flavored with peanut butter. Israeli children learn to eat it in infant-hood almost as soon as soon as they can grip anything. Your doctor might encourage you to give your ailing child some Bamba - he'll eat that if nothing else. No birthday party is complete without Bamba and adults love it too.  There are a few other competing peanut butter snacks but for the connoisseur, Bamba wins every time.

Israeli dairy products are known to be among the best in the world. ' Leben' and 'gil' (a cross between buttermilk or paneer, yogurt and soured creamed cheese), Dani and Milky compete for first place, they are a chocolate flavored treats in the refrigerator section of the supermarket, next to the yogurts.  Quite delicious!

From the Eastern-European Kitchen

  • Don't ask for kitke, lokshen, kichel, chopped herring, teigelach, pletzelach, imberlach (or any other -lach, you can think of)
  • Kitke is Challah
  • Lokshen is "Itriot" (noodles)
  • Kichel and chopped herring (make your own)
  • Teigelach (available in specialty stores in Raanana and very expensive)
  • Pletzelach and imberlach (sweets our bobbas made for Pesach) - make your own or remember them with great fondness.
  • Cholent is alos known as Hamin (from the Sephardic kitchen)
  • Chreime (fish cooked in a spicy tomato sauce) is to the Sephardim what gefilte fish is to the Ashkenazim - recipe
  • Chrain (horeseradish) - ask for Hazeret

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