Friday, 23 April 2021
Local Time In Israel Asia - Jerusalem


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The Awesome Naf Naf.

An Israeli & Middle Eastern grill phenomenon.


nafnafYou might have learned how to build a fire in scouts or in the how-to section of "The Art of Manliness" - a bit of kindling and tinder; wood, pine cones, dry leaves, paper, charcoal and a match.  We built massive bonfires to celebrate Lag B'Omer, and threw on old chairs, tables, book-cases or anything made of wood to create a blaze.  But rules for the Israeli BBQ are a little different.

Barbecue season in Israel officially starts on Yom Ha'atzmaut - Israel's Independence Day - when two thirds of the country (a conservative estimate) head outdoors.  Traditionally, families and friends get together and the meal of choice is a BBQ - Israeli style.

The Hebrew word for BBQ is Mangal - מנגל - (originally derived from Arabic and a word used all over the Middle East and some Mediterranean countries)  In Israel it is commonly referred to as 'Al HaEish' - על האש - which literally it means on the fire.  Whatever you choose to call it, there is a ritual.

You'll need:

  • A BBQ - a metal box approximately 60 x 40cm, easily available at hardware stores and better petrol-stations
  • A bag of charcoal
  • Firelighters or some form of accelerant and,
  • A Naf Naf

What is a the meaning of the word Naf Naf?

The Urban Dictionary defines the word 'Naf Naf' as 'awesome' and it is exactly that. 

What do I use a Naf Naf for?

The purpose of the awesome NafNaf is to ventilate a fire so that it lights and burns well. The Israeli NafNaf is a paddle, usually made of plastic.  You can buy Naf Nafim wherever you buy your BBQ and accessories and even at petrol stations.  If you cannot lay your hands on a traditional NafNaf, you can improvise.

Are there alternatives to the plastic paddle?

A disposable plate, a frisbee, a piece of cardboard will work just as well.

A true story

An Anglo immigrant (Oleh), having made thousands of BBQs in his lifetime,  prepares the fire for his family's Mangal in a remote location in Northern Israel.  Suddenly out of nowhere a 4th generation and friendly Israeli arrives on the scene to offer some unasked for advice.  He tells the immigrant that he is doing it all wrong.  Mr. Friendly Israeli will show Mr. Immigrant how it's done. He runs off to his car to get what he maintains is the 'best tinder' - offcuts of pine from his carpentry workshop. Upon his return he reconstructs the fire altogether. He crumples up a few paper towels and puts them into the soon-to-be fire (the accelerant does not have to be fuel based or a flammable solvent).  He lights the fire and stands back proudly.  "Where is your Naf Naf?" he asks.  The immigrant shrugs his shoulders. In Hebrew he answers; "Ain li" he says - I don't have one.

The friendly Israeli is gobsmacked! A BBQ without a Naf Naf is like french fries without ketchup.  He maintains that the plastic paddle is useless anyway and he always uses a piece of cardboard - and cardboard from an old Coke crate works best.  The dirtier the better.  He then proceeds to tell the immigrant that cardboard from a Sprite or RC crate does not work as well.  With difficulty the immigrant keeps a straight face and controls his urge to explode into laughter. The friendly Israeli says "Rega" - hold-on - he goes back to his car to search for his cardboard Coke crate Naf Naf.  In the meantime the fire is going well.  About 5 minutes later the friendly Israeli arrives back on the scene, perspiration dripping from his brow.  In his hand is an old pizza box.  The immigrant is completely bewildered.  The friendly Israeli is a little embarrassed but with all the confidence he can muster, he says that he couldn't find his Coke Naf Naf but never mind, an old pizza box works just as well.  The two families join together and share lunch. They talk as if they have known each other for years. They talk about politics, overdrafts and mortgages. The BBQ is a success and both families are happy and well fed.


With the start of the summer BBQ season, whatever your Naf Naf of choice is, make sure you have one so that you blend into the crowd and don't obviously identify yourself as an ignorant immigrant Oleh.


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