When people invite someone for a barbecue in Israel, it is often a big ordeal. Referred to as “al-ha-aish,” a barbecue evening is often more a drawn out social event than simply a meal. For many Israelis, the preferred grill is a charcoal grill. Reminiscent of ancient hunter-gatherer societies, the men will often gather around the grill, ready to display their masculinity by getting the flame roaring without using any starter fluid or cubes. Instead they will use some sort of makeshift fan to fan the flames and help get the fire going. In the supermarket, you can buy a big plastic hand (a “nuff-nuff”) that you can use to help with this process. The host will often prepare copious quantities of meat – including everything from chicken wings, kebabs, hamburgers and chicken steaks to fine beef steaks, often spiced with succulent Middle Eastern flavours. But don’t expect an early dinner. I have been invited to a number of barbecue evenings that have been called for 7 p.m. where dinner was finally ready around 10:30 p.m. Personally, I have learned to get a charcoal grill started quite quickly, though I use large quantities of lighter fluid. Even so, charcoal barbecues can take up a great deal of time.
Barbecues are quite popular in Israel on national holidays. On Yom Haatzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day, parks and beach areas are filled with families making charcoal barbecues for large groups. I have been to many barbecue events, even hosted by religious families on Pesach and Sukkot as well as other holidays. It can be quite fun and the result can be some very tasty food, but it’s often a long process.
(Photo taken from Shawarma Mayor's Blog - notice the Nuff-Nuff?)
Recently, gas grills have become more common place in Israel. The prices of these grills however are obscenely high. Grills can run as much as 5 or 6 times the prices of comparable barbecues in Canada or the U.S. and many of the better types are simply not available. Although this is partially due to State-imposed duties, the barbecue prices are way out of sync with the type of mark-ups that can be found on other items.
So I decided to bring over an in-between grill on one of my recent trips. People making Aliyah or otherwise bringing a container to Israel can bring along a large grill from North America. You should make sure you will be living somewhere with access to a yard or a large balcony on which grilling is permissible. The weight of these large grills makes it prohibitively expensive to bring them by plane so it makes sense to bring them by ship. But a portable grill is a different story.
I picked up a Weber Q-220 in Canada – which was within the allowable weight limit for one of my trips back to Israel. The grill sells for about $200-$225 in the U.S. or about $280 plus HST in Canada. Canadians can use about 33,000 Aeroplan points to buy one (taxes included). In Israel, the same grill sells for between 2,000 and 2,200 N.I.S. or about $570 to $630 Canadian. It can be bought with a stand and is really quite portable.
There is no problem at Israeli customs since the grill sells for around $200 which is the legally permissible limit for importing appliances and other items into Israel. But, what I hadn’t realized was that the propane tanks in Israel (and Europe) differ in size, shape and gas mixture from those in North America.
I spoke to the "kind" folks at Weber Israel who have the exclusive import rights for Weber grills. They told me that the grill was totally different and I could only use the barbecue in Israel to “hold a plant” since it couldn’t be modified. This turned out to be completely false information, though it had me worried for a little while.
I phoned around and found a store named “Nuni” in Gedera. They said that they would simply have to change the internal gas nozzle (connected to the burner) and the hose attachment and the barbecue would be all set to work in Israel. They charge 100 N.I.S. to do these adaptations and 400 (about $112 Canadian) N.I.S. for a new 5 kg. propane/butane tank. Apparently it costs 100 (about $28 Cdn) N.I.S. to refill the tank each time. They did this quickly and demonstrated that the unit worked at their shop. They also modify larger North American grills for Israeli use at reasonable prices.
So I now have the Weber Q220 working at home and I am ready to invite some people over for a barbecue. Of course with a gas barbecue, we can call the dinner party for 7:30 and eat at 7:45 or 8 p.m. We’ll miss out on the ritual of getting the fire started (and using the nuff-nuff) and maybe we’ll miss some of the charcoal taste but we’ll have lots more time to spend drinking wine or scotch or just schmoozing while the food is cooked in a fraction of the time. Sure the food might not taste quite as good as if it was cooked over charcoal, but I have always used gas grills and generally enjoyed them.