Welcome to the Best Thing at Trader Joe’s, a series in which chefs and restaurant industry insiders share which TJ’s product is the GOAT (no #sponcon necessary). Today’s installment, Philadelphia chef Ari Miller, from 2019 Eater Best New Restaurant Musi, on Bamba.
Bamba is the quintessential Israeli snack. It’s mostly known for being the reason why Israeli kids have no peanut allergies — because they eat so much Bamba. But everybody eats it there — it’s literally everywhere. There are Bamba ads on the sides of the buildings. You go to a friend’s house, you get stoned, you watch tv, and there’s always a bag of Bamba.
I’m Israeli by immigration, so I was not raised on this stuff. I moved there when I was out of college and didn’t know what I was going to be doing with myself. Following [my time in the Israeli army], I started working in journalism, and spent a year as a food writer. That was sort of the catalyst of my career, and I eventually transitioned from writing about food to cooking it. Israel was where I started working in restaurants.
At first, I didn’t love Bamba. It’s a weird concept: They’re corn puffs with a peanut butter-ish flavor. But once they grow on you, they’re in you, and there’s no turning back. You have the same tactile experience of having to lick your fingers after eating cheese puffs, but it doesn’t feel gross.
When I moved back from Israel, it wasn’t like I missed it intensely. But, you know, when I got a craving for it, it wasn’t around. Sometimes you’d see it in the Jewish aisle of a specialty grocery store, if they were doing a special promotion. But people would mostly bring it in their suitcases back from Israel.
The big deal with Trader Joe’s is they have all these different “house products,” but they almost always rebrand something as their own. So it was a big deal that they still called it “Bamba.” And you go, and it’s $0.99 a bag, which is outrageously cheap. It’s not something I have all the time — I go to Trader Joe’s once in a while — but when I go, the trick is to figure out how many bags of Bamba I can buy and still fit all the other things I need in my bag.
Bamba is definitely an any time of day snack, but the moment that it’s really awesome is late at night, after work, when I’m either too tired to have a meal or just want to get to bed. I also love it when it’s gone stale. Sometimes, I’ll open a bag and just leave it open for a day or two and then go back to it. The move is to open up a bag, eat half of it, and then eat the rest of it two days later. I don’t know why it’s so good, that’s just how it always was: you’d open up a bag and forget about it and find it in the back of the cupboard. It gets a little squishier, so the tactile experience changes slightly, and the flavor concentrates a little bit. But not everyone likes it like that — it’s one of those divisive things where you’re either one one side or the other.