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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Poor Man's Cappuccino

I was recently reminiscing with a friend at work about how even as recently as 25 years ago, Israel had relatively few so-called luxury products.

While most Israeli households back then had land-line phones (after up to a year's wait for Bezek to come do the installation, of course), cell-phones were unheard of... and renters and dorm denizens had to stand in line on the corner at pay phones where they would have to feed 'asimonim', special donut shaped tokens that could be purchased at the post office, into the slot to keep the conversation going.

Every home had ample stove-top facilities for cooking but again, renters and less established folk rarely had ovens.  Microwaves?  Only for the very rich!  To get around this, there was a neat little Israeli invention called the 'Wonder-Pot'.  This was a covered aluminum pot that looked like a bundt pan, that you used to bake cakes on the stove-top.  You put it on the flame so the heat would rise up through the center hole and [theoretically] distribute evenly over all the surfaces of whatever was being baked.  I had one of these in the dorm at Hebrew University, and can remember decidedly mixed results.

But during this recent reminiscing session at work, my colleague and I were mostly talking about the fact that long before the widespread availability of home cappuccino and espresso makers here in Israel, people would routinely make a poor man's version called 'Cafe Hafuch' (upside down coffee). 

The way it worked was that you put a heaping spoonful of instant coffee (Elite 'Nes' worked best) into a big mug.  Then you added a spoonful or two of sugar.  Add in a couple of drops of water (juuuuust enough to barely dampen the coffee and sugar), and then stir madly for a few minutes with a spoon. 

I can remember sitting in the common area of the dorms the night before exams at Hebrew U where everyone had a cup in their hands and was absently stirring their preparation of 'Hafuch' while studying and waiting for the water to boil on the stove.

After a little while of this stirring, you ended up with a bright yellow thick foamy paste at the bottom of the cup.  To this you added boiling water to about three-quarters of the way to the rim, stirring briskly all the time to make sure all the yellow paste gets mixed nicely with the hot water.  Then you immediately filled the cup the rest of the way with fresh cold milk.  A thick layer of foam would immediately form on top of the coffee and even a poor student could enjoy a luxury drink as if he/she were sitting at the finest cafe in Paris or Rome.

There is a coffee machine down the hall from my office where I can get free espressos, lattes cappuccinos (and a few other concoctions I haven't yet deciphered) at the touch of a button.  But I still enjoy making myself a poor man's Cappuccino -'Cafe Hafuch' -  the the old fashioned way.

Posted by David Bogner on May 27, 2010 | Permalink


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My Golani son speaks of making an iced coffee without a blender. Guys sit around the barracks, taking turns crushing ice by hand with a metal spoon. After it is partially crushed (and many stories have been shared), it is time to add the magical Elite "nes cafe." As in your collegiate version, much stirring and crushing and sugaring ensues. When a sort of coffee slurpee results, milk is whisked in. Anybody still awake gets to share in the little bit of luxury.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | May 27, 2010 1:28:32 PM

We had to wait 3 years for our land line, not just one year. I also remember making cafe hafuch as a volunteer on kibbutz - we would make the initial mixture just like you recorded, but then we would add milk, invert another cup on top of the coffee cup, rim to rim, hold tight (very tight!) and shake. And pray that the 2 cups wouldn't slide away from each other, resulting in a sticky but tasty mess. If it worked (and it was more 'if' than 'when') the result was very good indeed. Happy memories :-).

Posted by: annie | May 27, 2010 4:38:22 PM

I still carry an asimon on my keychain. Never know when I am going to need it again.

Posted by: Jack | May 27, 2010 5:48:20 PM

rutimizrachi... oooh, I have to try that! :-)

annie ... Yes, we've become those old fogies pining for the days when we had it so hard! :-)

Jack ... Find another one and you can make a nice pair of earings for someone.

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 27, 2010 6:23:48 PM

forget 25 years ago, when I was studying at Ben Gurion U 5 years ago and living in the dorms I had only a stove top and toaster oven one of my roommates brought...and I doubt they've installed ovens since.

Posted by: Beershevaboheme6 | May 27, 2010 6:28:50 PM

In the 60`s getting a fridge in Israel was a big deal.My bank got a new coffee machine like yours,have to try out all the options some day.

Posted by: Ed | May 27, 2010 6:29:58 PM

I remember in '85 talking about piercing our noses and earrings. We used to laugh about running a chain between one nostril and our ear and then hanging the asimonim from it. Who knew that something like that would eventually be seen as relatively tame.

BTW, doesn't Ballatine Ester (sp.) make earrings from asimonim.

Posted by: Jack | May 27, 2010 7:31:51 PM

Thanks for explaining Cafe Hafuch. Benji Lovitt recently did a comedy show with the same name and I was wondering what it meant. To all the blog commentators and lurkers who enjoy coffee, welcome in NZ where we have the best!

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | May 27, 2010 9:56:02 PM

As much as I love coffee, I can't stand Nescafe (which for me is a totally different drink). Therefore I am not sure I'd like 'Cafe Hafuch'.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | May 27, 2010 11:42:12 PM

1) For my bat mitzva, which if I'm not mistaken occurred just a few years before the asimonim were phased out, someone gave me one with my Hebrew name overlaid on it, with a silver chain. I still have it somewhere.

2) Waaaaiiiiit...are you admitting to drinking -- and even enjoying, no less! -- something (besides ersatz Kahlua) that contains instant coffee??!!!

3) A few years back when I first started trying to decipher menus here, I was told that "hafuch" is what Americans call a latte. This seems at odds with your definition above. Could you possibly clarify, please?

Posted by: Alisha | May 28, 2010 1:55:44 AM

oh the cafe hafuch . . . i still make it :-) my morning coffee is fabulous locally roasted beans, but my afternoon cup? still nes. i just crave it right around 3pm. my neighbor (Israeli) and I have our hafuch almost every afternoon while waiting for the kids to come home on the bus. one of the many "lifestyle" things i brought back with me (that, and smartoots/sponejes or however you spell that. nothing cleans a kitchen floor better).

Posted by: Leah Weiss Caruso | May 28, 2010 4:14:44 AM

You didn't mention the Lavi oven! My pal Dov had one when we were in college in the late 70s. The base fit around the burner ring on the stove top, and it was an insulated box with a door. His was minus the door, so we hung a sheet of tin foil over the opening.

There were times when the doar limited how many asimonim one could buy, to prevent hoarding them as an investment.

Posted by: Mordechai Y. Scher | May 31, 2010 7:53:56 AM

Just whipped up my first "Poor Man's HaFuch" in my Treppenwitz mug. Sublime!

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Jun 4, 2010 11:22:20 AM

Funny that you call it an Israeli invention - I always thought it was Russian! We had a "chuda" - Russian for "wonder", but since all apartments in the US had an oven, I only ever saw it used in one as an ersatz bundt pan! :)

I wonder if it was Russian and brought to Israel by the first immigrants, or if it was invented in Israel and made its way to Russia!

Posted by: Tanya | Jun 4, 2010 3:02:06 PM

When I first visited Israel as a child I thought it was so cool to have a coin with a hole in it. I'm sure we still have some somewhere.

I remember getting arm-ache from making poor man's latte when I was a kibbutz volunteer in the late 1980s. Being a filter coffee addict Israeli Nes was a nasty shock but after putting so much effort into whipping up that yellow foam I convinced myself it tasted quite good.
And of course it only works with the original Elite Nes not with the 'better' brands of instant coffee.

Posted by: Esther | Jun 9, 2010 9:17:59 AM

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