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The Guide: Hanukkah Food

Hanukkah foods fried in oil are usually the focus of family feasts as a way to commemorate the miracle of the oil. But what that looks like in different cultures can vary widely. Be sure to check out our many delicious recipes to try out all week long!

Traditional Hanukkah Foods: Latkes and Sufganiyot

Potato pancakes, called latkes, are the all-star of most Hanukkah celebrations in America. They come from the Ashkenazic (Eastern European) tradition and are made of grated potato, onion and egg. Served alongside applesauce and sour cream, they are warm, crispy and worth smelling up your house to make.

For some variety, try some of our fun recipes like Za’atar Carrot Waffle Latkes and Mochi Latkes, and for a healthier alternative, try baking instead of frying. If your family is celebrating another holiday this winter, there are all kinds of potential cultural mash-ups to try out. There’s no limit to the variations you can create; check out all our recipes here.

Called sufganiyot in Hebrew, jelly-filled doughnuts are the traditional Israeli Hanukkah food (sweet) of choice, which are now also popular in America. In the weeks leading up to Hanukkah, Israeli bakeries are filled with vast cases of fancy doughnuts in many flavors. Making doughnuts at home isn’t as hard as it sounds as long as you’re not afraid of a little deep-frying (and a lot of sticky jelly). Once you get comfortable with the basic process, you can get creative with your own flavors and fillings (gingerbread doughnuts, anyone?).

Traditions From Around the World

Jews around the world have their own versions of fried foods associated with Hanukkah. Sephardic Jews (with origins in Spain) may celebrate by making fritters served in syrup called bimuelos or a fried dough similar to a doughnut called zalabia. On Hanukkah, Kurdish Jews make carrot fritters; Moroccan Jews make another kind of fried dough called sfenj, and some Colombian Jews deep fry plantains to create patacones. If your family has a background in a culture with its own fried food delicacy, go ahead and make that for an intercultural expression of the holiday and a connection back to the story of the oil. There’s no wrong food to eat on Hanukkah!

Dairy On Hanukkah?

The Maccabees were all men, as were the ancient rabbis who created the holiday, the legends around it, and the ways to celebrate. In recent years, as Jews and Americans, in general, have been reclaiming women’s roles in history, a lesser-known story from the history of Hanukkah has gained popularity—along with another delicious food tradition.

In one part of the Hanukkah story, a woman named Judith frequently visited an enemy general named Holofernes. One fateful day, Judith brought Holofernes a basket of salty cheese, and after he greedily ate it up, she gave him wine to quench his thirst. When he fell into a drunken sleep, she cut off his head with his own sword.

To honor Judith’s bravery and her role in helping the Maccabees defeat this enemy, dairy foods are another popular Hanukkah food choice. Cheese has historically been more common in Sephardic Hanukkah traditions, including among Italian Jews who make a cheese pancake called cassola. Dairy foods are gaining popularity across American Jewish communities as a Hanukkah custom that honors Judith and that calls attention to women’s stories.

Read on in the next section of this guide, Hanukkah, Christmas and Your Interfaith Family


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Author: 18Doors