Traditional Hanukkah Food
Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday that celebrates the endurance of the Jewish religion and culture in second-century BCE. It typically falls in early November or late December, marking the 25th day of the month of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar.
Known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is a time when friends and family gather to rejoice, exchange gifts, and enjoy an assortment of traditional Hanukkah foods. From hearty potato latkes to sweet, crispy kugel, read below to learn more about traditional Hanukkah recipes and how to spruce them up.
What Are Some Traditional Hanukkah Foods?
A traditional Hanukkah menu is composed of numerous dishes, including fried food, savory meat, and sweet desserts. Below we go through five essential Hanukkah foods that are rooted in tradition, making them a meaningful part of your celebration.
Latkes, also known as potato pancakes, are made from shallow-fried shredded or mashed potatoes. Latkes are commonly served with sides such as applesauce and sour cream. While latkes are a quintessential traditional Hanukkah food, there is still plenty of room for creativity. Here are a few ways to add a twist to this classic recipe.
- Substitute traditional potatoes with sweet potatoes
- Incorporate unusual spices such as ginger, curry, or Cajun seasoning
- Go sweet by topping with toasted marshmallows, coconut, or fruit compote
- Include savory ingredients or toppings such as parsnips, pesto, cheese, or scallions
Why Are Fried Foods Eaten for Hanukkah?
Fried foods are an important part of the traditional Hanukkah dinner, as they represent the small amount of oil that miraculously burned for 8 days instead of just one when the Jews rededicated the Temple after overcoming oppression. As guests enjoy their meal, the oil used to fry the foods is meant to remind them of the miracle their ancestors experienced centuries ago.
Brisket is enjoyed during many Jewish holidays in addition to Hanukkah, such as Rosh Hashanah and Passover. As you prepare this meal in a dutch oven or roasting pan, be sure to include a combination of flavor-enhancing seasonings. Below are some seasoning and recipe ideas for your Hanukkah brisket:
- Create a hearty brisket stew with potatoes and carrots
- Use a variety of spices and herbs, such as fresh cracked black pepper, paprika, salt, thyme, or parsley
- Stir in prunes and apricots for a touch of sweetness
- For a modern twist, include flavorful gravy or barbecue sauces with sweet flavors such as mango or peach to balance out your brisket’s savory spices.
When done right, brisket is irresistibly juicy and flavorful. Since this cut of meat is served very tender, it does take a few hours to cook.
Why is Brisket a Jewish Traditional Food?
This tradition came forth because Kosher practices make it easier to slice brisket meat cuts, and it was historically one of the more affordable meat cuts.
Kugel is a traditional Jewish egg noodle casserole and is commonly served as a side dish. Kugel can be transformed from sweet to savory by swapping out sugar and cinnamon for vegetables and spices. Consider adding a unique and tasty touch to your Kugel with the following spices, dried fruit, nuts, and other ingredients.
- Dried fruits such as raisins, craisins, pineapple, or apricots
- Apples and honey
- Pumpkin puree with cloves and maple syrup
- Cranberries and pecans
- Cornflakes and golden raisins
Kugel is a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dish. Some interpretations hold that kugel is credited with mystical, spiritual qualities.
4. Jelly-Filled Donuts
Another traditional fried food enjoyed on Hanukkah is the deep-fried jelly-filled donut or sufganiyot in Hebrew. Below are suggestions for serving unique sufganiyot this year.
- Try making donuts gluten free or vegan to cater to guests with dietary restrictions.
- Fill your sufganiyot with various types of fillings, such as raspberry jam, strawberry jam, blueberry jam, pumpkin cream, lime curd, or chocolate custard.
Like latkes, this food is significant because it is reminiscent of the oil miracle.
5. Hanukkah Gelt
Whether scattered on kitchen and dining room tables during your Hanukkah celebration, reserved for prizes during games, or given as a token or gift, chocolate Hanukkah gelt is a part of many Hanukkah celebrations today.
- Change it up this year by making your own Hanukkah gelt made of dark chocolate or white chocolate.
- Use Hanukkah gelt molds to add the Star of David or a menorah to your chocolates.
Why Is Chocolate Hanukkah Gelt Given on Hanukkah?
Since the 17th century, giving money (gelt) on Hanukkah has been a tradition. It began with parents giving gelt to teachers and eventually expanded to families giving gelt to their children as gifts or rewards for Torah study. Over time, chocolate manufacturers used the concept to make chocolate gelt wrapped in gold or silver foil in small pouches that look like money bags. This act of gratitude is also recognized as a commemoration and celebration of the miracle of the oil.
Other than these customary Hanukkah foods, it's typical to include a range of other sides, like challah, large salads, Brussels sprouts, or seasonal recipes, such as fried okra and late-harvest zucchini. These dishes represent the long history of Jewish families and friends coming together and celebrating the holiday season through food. Incorporate this blend of traditional and modern flavors into your favorite Jewish recipes to provide guests with a memorable Hanukkah meal.