Chanukah Food Traditions

Chanuka FoodsOkay, so I’ve now covered why we eat fried food on Chanukah, and why we eat dairy foods, but why the particular dishes that we associate with Chanukah? Why Latkes? Why Sufganiot (jelly donuts)? There are plenty of foods that fit into the fried/dairy category, so why these ones?

Over time, different Jewish communities throughout the world have found a variety of ways to incorporate both oil and dairy into their Chanukah meals. One of the most famous, Israeli sufganiot, may actually derive from a yeast dough pastry mentioned in the Talmud (the written edition of the oral Torah). These pastries were cooked in oil and called sufganin (absorbent) because they absorbed a lot of oil in cooking. They did not contain milk, but were sweetened and perhaps even filled with honey and the fact that they were cooked in oil led to the pastries becoming a Chanukah staple early on.In Spain, Jews added cheese to these pastries—and from this twist on an old tradition evolved the many cheese doughnuts, fritters, and other fried cheese pastries popular among Sephardim. They may have influenced the cheese pastries popular in some Central European communities as well. A jelly-filled version evolved among German Jews, who brought it with them to the Land of Israel in the 1930’s.

In more Northern communities, where olive oil was scarce and expensive, goose or chicken fat often had to be used for frying. Potato latkes, apple fritters, and other non-dairy fried foods became the norm, although today when olive (or other pareve) oil is affordable and commonly used in preparing latkes, etc., dairy is often added—usually in the form of a dollop of sour cream on top of a latke.

So there you go, you now know the whys, so go and check out the recipes for the hows! Chag Samayach everyone!

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