Word of the Day / Hatuliya: When Lunch Looks Like Something the Cat Dragged In

When you find a shawarma stand that locals refer to as a 'hatuliya,' you’d better watch out.

If your instinct is to stay away from any dining establishment that is commonly referred to as a “cat place,” or hatuliya, it’s probably a good idea to listen to your gut (lest it get back at you after you eat).

The word hatuliya follows the common construction of noun plus the suffix -ya for types of places, as in sifriya, meaning “library” (from sefer, or “book”) and tinokiya, or “baby nursery” (from tinok, meaning “baby”).

It follows that, just as books sit on shelves in a sifirya and babies wail, sleep and poop in a tinokiya, cats are kept in a hatuliya. And that can in fact be the case, as with kennels that board dogs and cats. Despite its name, Dog Farm in Moshav Beit Halevidescribes itself as a boarding house that “includes a professional hatuliya located in a building with spacious cages,” while Beider’s Dog House in Kibbutz Bror Hayil states that the cats in its hatuliya “are boarded in an air-conditioned, ventilated room adjacent to our home, in private, comfortable and spacious cubbies.”

That’s all good and well for when you go on vacation and don’t want kitty left alone. But when you find a shawarma stand that locals refer to as a hatuliya, you’d better watch out.

A scathing review posted by a disappointed customer on Israeli restaurant site 2eat skewered a grilled meat restaurant in Petah Tikva (a shipudiya, from shipud, meaning “skewer”) with the ultimate insult: “At the end of the day, we left feeling that we had burned money on a meal that could easily have been better had we stopped at a gas station or even a random hatuliya.”

Dorbanot, an online slang dictionary with user-submitted entries, describes hatuliya as a nickname for “an IDF dining room or a restaurant with poor health standards.” As for the cats being referenced, they could be the ones slinking around the garbage cans just outside or they could be the ones that, in feral cat-ridden Israel, are suspiciously absent and thus thought (mostly in jest) to be the main ingredient in the pita or on the plate.

“Who’s coming to eat at the restaurant nearby?” one speaker asks another in the usage example provided in the entry. “What, in the hatuliya?” the second person responds. “No thanks, I prefer my intestines salmonella-free.”

One commenter on the Dorbanot entry writes that hatuliya was the name he reserved for a hamburger place in Kiryat Shmona that at one point sold burgers for 4.99 shekels ($1.43), five to six times less than they cost in many places in Israel.

“A few minutes after we finished eating, we noticed that for some reason in Kiryat Shmona you don’t see street cats…” the commenter writes. “Since then, that place has been the hatuliya.”

Bon appetit!

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.