The Foods of Hanukkah

In the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, there is significance in every ritual, every game, every song and every meal. The food of Hanukkah is just as symbolic to the meaning of Hanukkah as is the act of lighting the Menorah itself.

When it comes to Hanukkah, the holiday is awash in deep-fried delights. Tempting tummy-pleasing treats, filled with fruits, dipped in honey or sprinkled with powdered sugar. Needless to say, Hanukkah is a time for many things, but dieting is not one of them!

Traditionally, many of Hanukkah’s treats are fried in oil. Olive oil is symbolic of the Miracle of the Oil. As the Maccabees ousted the Temple of the invaders, they discovered that there was only one day’s worth of oil left in the temple. That one day’s worth of oil lasted for eight days. Others believe that oil holds the same properties as the Torah. For instance, when lit, oil can illuminate the room, and when read, the Torah can illuminate your life. Also, the oil adds pleasure to both the food and your life, as does the Torah.

Traditional deep-fried dishes include Potato Latkes (Livivot), doughnuts (Sufganiyot) and fritters.

Potato latkes are thin pancakes made from julienned potatoes, mixed with egg and usually grated onion then deep-fried to a crisp golden brown. They are commonly served with an accompanying dollop of applesauce or sour cream, or cheeses. Traditionalists prefer to eat their latkes with no garnishments. Potato latkes can in fact be made from a variety of different vegetables. Many people love to make them with sweet potatoes, parsnips or any other type of vegetable that can withstand frying.

Classic Jewish doughnuts (Sufganiyot) are round in shape and do not feature the hole in the center found in regular donuts. Sufganiyots are filled with sweet jelly or custard and topped with powdered sugar, or sometimes drizzled with icing. The name, Sufganiyot, is has its origins based on the Hebrew word, “sufganiyah,” which means “sponge.”

While latkes and doughnuts are Hanukkah favorites in virtually all Jewish households during the eight days of Hanukkah, in reality, anything fried in the sacred oil holds the same significance. It could be crispy apple or pumpkin fritters, fried onion rings, fried zucchini or any other tempting delight.

Other traditional foods of Hanukkah feature cheeses and other dairy products. This is significant because it symbolizes the victory of Judith over the Syrian-Greeks. It is said that Syrian-Greek soldiers, led be General Holofernes, came upon the Jewish town of Bethulia on their way to Judea. As the battle wages, it is quickly discovered that the Jewish town is outmatched. Judith, a widow, feigns surrender and enters the Syrian-Greek camp. General Holofernes is taken by Judith’s beauty and she returns to his tent. Once there, she feeds the General dishes of salty cheese, which causes him to consume quite a bit of wine. When the General passes out drunk, Judith uses his own sword to sever his head, thus forcing the troops to retreat while Bethulia is saved.

Blintzes are commonly enjoyed during Hanukkah, as are creamy cheesecakes. Blintzes are often filled with cheese, while other versions are filled with sweet fruits and jelly. Some people choose to deep-fry their blintzes while others prefer not to. Blintzes are made from very thin pancakes, similar to a crepe, wrapped around a favorite filling. They are rolled into logs, open on each end or closed if fried.

Hanukkah is filled with delicious treats and meals and it’s no wonder why the holiday has grown into one of the most popular events in the Jewish household. From children enjoying their sweet chocolate gelts (coins) to adults savoring their latkes, the eight days of Hanukkah holds many joys, many traditions and many culinary delights!

To read more about Hanukkah’s rituals, significance, songs or games, be sure to check out our other articles related to the celebration of Hanukkah.

Dave Donovan is a freelance copywriter living in Atco, N.J. An electrician for 15 years, an injury forced him to pursue his true passion - writing.