Hanukkah customs: favorite foods

14 12 2009
Jewish Lifestyle Examiner

Hanukkah customs: favorite foods

December 12, 11:09 AMJewish Lifestyle ExaminerCaryn Green







Hanukkah o Hanukkah come light the Menorah –

The religious observance of Hanukkah – which is after all one of the minor holidays –begins and ends with lighting the candles every day at sundown and reciting a few brief prayers. It’s no Yom Kippur, that’s for sure. This always seems to come as a surprise to  Gentile colleagues who ask if you’ll be out of the office for your big holiday coming up. No, this is one of the minors, you tell them, we work on this one.

What Hanukkah may lack in religious ritual it more than makes up for in ethnic customs-mainly involving food – indigestion-causing, artery-clogging Jewish comfort food. Indeed one of the elements of this holiday that makes it so special and the house smell like a greasy spoon diner for a couple  days is the potato latkes. Pancakes of shredded potatoes, onions, matzo meal and egg, fried in oil and served with a liberal dollop of sour cream –  or applesauce – or sugar sprinkled on top. Oh yeah baby.

Sufganiyot – deep fried jelly donuts Photo by Nirita10

On the Israeli/Sephardic side of the aisle, Hanukkah means  jelly donuts – sufganiyot, as they are called  -deep fried in oil. It’s all about the oil. 

You have to wonder whether the Maccabees could  have foretold, while carting off half-ton statues of Zeus and cleansing pig entrails from the altar of Solomon’s temple,  that thousands of years later their descendants would commemorate their victory by consuming mass quantities of unhealthy fried foods. It’s hard to imagine they’d approve. What, outnumbered ten to one we waged war against our oppressors for thirty years so you could eat this drek

However, according to a website which did not source its information and therefore may not be taken as gospel – if you will – this tradition is reported to have originated with the Maccabees. According to this post on History.com, the resistance fighters ate fried pancakes made from cheese, vegetables or fruit on the battlefields. 

I’m not convinced. It seems much more likely that this particular culinary tradition got its start in diaspora, in the “host” countries of Eastern Europe.

Potato latkes frying in oil                 Photo by Jonathunder

Purists insist upon the traditional iteration, but these days a great many recipes offer healthier alternatives. One year your Examiner grated up mounds and mounds of carrots and zucchini, formed them into pancakes and oven-baked them in a shallow layer of canola oil. The time-honored recipe was also prepared.

The senior family members stuck to the traditional version, but the kids gravitated to the veggie latkes. Why?

They tasted similar to the buchim vegetable pancakes they’d been served in the homes of their Korean friends.

For the younger generation the sour cream, applesauce or sugar didn’t really fly as condiments. They asked for soy sauce.   

Let’s hear from you! Suggested topics of discussion:

  • Applesauce – sour cream – sugar – salt?
  • Thin & crispy, soggy and thick? Baked vs fried?
  • Modern methodology: Putting potatoes through a food processor – using frozen hash browns – did anybody notice, comment? Did you feel guilty?
  • Branching out into different ingredients? Did the family complain?

 If you enjoyed this you might also like: 
How do you spell Hanukkah? The Festival of Lights – historical background

Stay tuned for:  Dreidl, dreidl, dreidl  & Hanukkah gelt



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