Happy Hanukkah, everyone!
I was very inexperienced with Jewish food until a few years ago, until my family stumbled upon a treasure of a restaurant called Deli News in Richardson. There, I had my first blintzes, knishes, kreplach, and more, and I guess you could say I fell in love. Deli News is still one of my favorite restaurants!
The giant menu at Deli News made me realize that there’s a lot more to Jewish cuisine than my latke-loving self had realized. So this year, I decided to dig into Hanukkah, and sure enough, I’ve been missing out on a lot of cool culinary tradition! I’m going to share with you a couple of Hannukah food customs and a little of the history behind them.
The fried food custom of Hanukkah honors the oil-based miracle of Hanukkah, in which one cruse of oil burned for eight days and nights. Since fried foods are cooked in oil, this one seems only natural!
Latkes (fried potato pancakes) are a favorite that are traditionally topped with applesauce or sour cream, but there are lots of other delicious fried foods to be had during Hanukkah.
One example is sufganiyot, a deep-fried, jelly-filled donut eaten for dessert. Sufganiyot are often topped with powdered sugar and contain yeast. Bumuelos (also called loukoumades) are another type of donut made with unleavened matzo meal. Since bumuelos don’t contain yeast, these can also be eaten during Passover, a Jewish holiday during which consuming yeast is prohibited. However, yeast or no yeast, both these fried donuts make for delicious Hanukkah treats!
The story of why cheesy foods are eaten during Hanukkah gets a little more interesting!
The tradition stems from a story from the Book of Judith, which takes place during the Maccabean revolt commemorated on Hanukkah. In the story, an Assyrian warrior named Holofernes besieges the town of Bethulia. The elders of Bethulia are ready to surrender when Judith, a beautiful Bethulian widow, decides to infiltrate the Assyrian camp late one night with a basket of cheese and wine. Lowering Holofernes’ guard with her beauty, she gives him the salty cheese to make him thirsty, then offers him the wine, which he chugs. Once Holofernes is drunk, Judith takes his sword and beheads him. When the Assyrian troops find their decapitated leader the next morning, they flee Bethulia for good.
Today, a version of this story is often read on the Sabbath during Hanukkah, and people eat cheesy food as a way of commemorating Judith’s cunning and bravery in saving her people.
Blintzes, though popular year-round, are a favorite cheesy Hanukkah treat. They traditionally consist of crepe-style pancakes that are wrapped around sweet ricotta cheese and baked. Today, though, you can find blintzes stuffed with a wide variation of cheeses; cream cheese is a popular choice. Like latkes, blintzes are usually topped with sour cream or applesauce. Although they’re sweet, they’re usually eaten as a side dish rather than a dessert.
Another cheesy dish eaten during Hanukkah is lokshen kugle. A side dish, lokshen kugel is a sweet casserole made with noodles, eggs, and cream cheese. There is a savory variation of lokshen kugel made with potatoes (potato kugel), but this dish is significantly less popular than lokshen kugel.
There you have it– two delicious Hanukkah culinary traditions! Of course, every family does Hanukkah food differently; one of my good friend’s favorite things to eat is brisket, while I’ve heard another insist that no Hanukkah is complete without challah from her family’s favorite bakery.
If anyone reading has Hanukkah traditions or knowledge to share, I would love to learn from you in the comments! Thanks for reading everyone 🙂