‘Tis the season to share tidings of good cheer! In A Season of Sharing we talk about how to spread the holiday spirit through more than just gift-giving. Exploring old traditions, creating new ones with family and friends, and learning how to express holiday greetings in different languages can help us all share a little more this year. Take a look into traditional Hanukkah foods from around the world with this article from David Kieve. When the key ingredient of a holiday dish is oil, pretty much anything fried can be the headliner!
Hanukkah celebrates a time over 2000 years ago when the Jews reclaimed the Second Temple from Syrian-Greek invaders. After this, the oil for the holy menorah burned for a miraculous eight days instead of one. Oil, therefore, is the centerpiece of Hanukkah cuisine (also chocolate, but mostly because how can you have a fun holiday without some chocolate for the kids?).
Of course, the Jewish diaspora is now scattered around the world. That makes our traditional celebratory food as diverse as the countries we live in and local cultures we mix with.
Traditional Hanukkah Foods
Those celebrating in Europe cook up potato pancakes, called latkes. Grated potatoes mixed with a bit of oil easily fry up on their own. Before frying the potato mix in oil, you can add grated carrots or apples, onion, spices, and maybe even dry raisins or cranberries if you’re adventurous enough. The tradition stems from Europe having a lot of potatoes, especially Eastern Europe. Cheap and plentiful, potatoes became a staple food.
North American Jews incorporate the cuisine of their immigrant ancestors, but always include at least a few sufganiyot — jelly-filled donuts — on their Hannukah table. After all, we love our donuts, and the donuts require oil to deep-fry to perfection. Indeed, sufganiyot are a staple of Hanukkah cuisine throughout the Jewish diaspora, and especially in Israel.
Spanish and North-African Jews celebrate with fried donuts called bumuelos, traditionally eaten with honey. People from Spanish-speaking countries may know this as the buñuelo Christmas treat. Spanish Jews also have their version of a latke: berenjenas. Fried eggplant with honey.
It’s strange to talk about Middle Eastern food without mentioning hummus, or at least the chickpeas that it’s made from. The diaspora of Iraqi Jews comes to the rescue with their Hanukkah classic sambousak b’tawa, a turnover filled with spiced chickpeas.
Dried Fruit and Spices
Speaking of spice, one Jewish community in the Southern Indian city of Cochi has been separated from the rest of the diaspora for so long that they have merged a lot of local food traditions with Jewish cuisine in interesting (kosher) ways. Their Hanukkah fried fritters include coconut, dried fruit, nuts, and spices.
Pollo Fritto di Hanucca
Want fried chicken for Hanukkah? Forget Kentucky and head over to Italy instead! Pollo Fritto di Hanucca is chicken that gets marinated in lemon, garlic, and spices before taking a dip in batter and getting crisped in oil. And you thought Italians only do pizza and pasta!
All in all, anything fried in oil can be a Hanukkah mainstay. With eight days to eat through, you have the perfect opportunity to take a world tour of Jewish Hanukkah cuisine and learn about the holiday’s traditions. And don’t forget to send a Hanukkah card to your favorite bubeleh. Happy Hanukkah!