Ben-Gurion’s Rice


You might recall a story that takes place in Chelm, city of fools, in which the village runs out of sour cream right before Shavuot. The elders suggest that since they still have plenty of water, why not switch the names of water and sour cream? Almost a stroke of genius; Chelmites get plenty of sour cream, but face a sudden shortage of water.

Prompted by a rice shortage during Israel’s austerity period of 1949-59, David Ben-Gurion commissioned a much sounder solution that resulted in one of Israel’s favorite carbs: ptitim, or what we in America call “Israeli couscous.” The food engineers at Osem devised the rice impostor by roasting “grains” of wheat flour paste. The resulting ptitim (whose name comes from the Arabic word for “pounding dry bread”) was a hit.

Today, ptitim appeals primarily to children—they can be found in the shapes of stars, rings, and hearts (but not dinosaurs, as of this writing). But if ptitim is Israel’s mac-and-cheese, it’s gourmet to the rest of the world: a quick recipe search brings up a ptitim risotto with radicchio” and even a pineapple couscous brûlée.

Recommended from JTA