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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Chanukah – Get Your Oil Ready!

Chanuka LightsAhhh… it’s Chanukah time again! Yes, it’s true, that here in North America Chanukah doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of Christmas, but I still love the whole celebration and festivities. That, and if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to celebrate Chanukah in Israel – Let me tell you, they do it up right! The stores are blasting songs (yes, there are more songs than just the Adam Sandler ones) and having tons of blue and silver tinsel everywhere! And the latkes? The sufganiot (jelly donuts)? Every kind and flavour you can imagine! So what do those two things have in common? (Besides being delicious of course) Oil! Here is one holiday where you are supposed to keep pouring it on! Some may ask why, though, again, other than being delicious.

Most of us are familiar with the miracle of the oil— that one day’s supply of oil lasted for eight days. And we know this is the origin of the mitzvah to light the menorah for eight days. It is also the reason why we have the custom of eating foods cooked in oil. But there are some deeper connections between olive oil and Chanukah.

Mystically, both the menorah and the oil used to light it are associated with Chochmah, wisdom. The war between the Greeks and the Jews was also a war over whose wisdom would endure. The Greeks wanted everyone under their rule to think and study exactly as they did. They were violently opposed to the idea of G‑dly wisdom, and so forbade the study of Torah. Also, the word shemen, Hebrew for oil, contains the same letters as shemoneh, eight, the number of days that the miracle of the oil lasted.

So there you go, you’ve got the miracle and the mysticism, two great reasons to fry up some latkes! And yes, the third reason still stands… They’re DELICIOUS!

*photo credit from discoverjcc.com. For more about your local JCC (Jewish Community Centre) click here.