Hanukkah is eight nights, so if you’re planning on making a traditional Jewish meal for every night, you are probably looking for a bit of variety.
We’re here to help you expand your menu and learn more about traditional Hanukkah foods, from the classics you probably already know about to more surprising customs from Jewish communities around the world.
Hanukkah foods tend to fall under one or more of three main themes:
*Fried food – to remind us of the miracle of the oil in the Temple that lasted for 8 nights instead of one
*Dairy – to honor the legend of Judith, who inspired Judean fighters by beheading an Assyrian general after feeding him salty cheese, which made him so thirsty that he drank wine until he fell in a deep sleep
*Sweets – to celebrate, and as a treat for kids to encourage Torah learning and Jewish pride
And now, here are our top 8 favorite Hanukkah foods you need to try for a truly festive and tasty holiday! (Including a few of our favorite recipes.)
1. Potato Latkes
Of course, we have to start off with all necessary due respect to the beloved potato pancake, a timeless dish that’s forever popular among Ashkenazi Jews, particularly in North America. Known as latkes in Yiddish or levivot in Hebrew, these holiday classics are the ultimate, super-satisfying comfort food, made out of grated potatoes and deep-fried in oil. Naturally, varieties in recipes abound, but below is our favorite, tried-and-true formula. And click here for more tips on how to make your latkes the best ever!
And don’t forget your favorite topping – whether sour cream, applesauce, chives, ketchup, hot sauce, or even sliced smoked salmon.
- 3 large, starchy potatoes, peeled
- 2 eggs
- 1 onion
- 3 tablespoons flour or matzah meal
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Oil for frying
- Pour a layer of oil into a non-stick frying pan and place on a high flame to heat through.
- Coarsely grate the potatoes. Squeeze out the liquid.
- Grate the onion. Add to the potatoes, then add eggs, flour, and seasoning to create your batter.
- Place spoonfuls of batter into the frying pan. Press down gently with the back of a spoon. Fry until golden brown, then flip and fry the second side.
- Sprinkle lightly with a little salt, and serve with your favorite topping.
- If you love making latkes you’ll love wearing this latke recipe apron from Israeli designer Barbara Shaw!
While latkes are all the rage in the Jewish diaspora, the quintessential Hanukkah food in Israel is actually the sufganiya (plural sufganiyot) – a yeasty, fried variety of donut – and every fall and early winter Israeli stores announce the ushering in of Hanukkah season with their festive donut displays.
Hailing from Eastern Europe (where they were originally called ponchiks in Yiddish) and adapted by Israeli chefs over generations, today these decadent holiday pastries come with a variety of fillings, from the traditional fruit jelly to chocolate, caramel, custard, and even alcohol-infused flavorings.
Whether you call them ponchiks, donuts (or doughnuts), or sufganiyot, make sure to grab some for the holiday (or try making your own!). And in the meantime, check out our post on the full history of how sufganiyot came to Israel.
The Moroccan-Jewish community has its own famous version of a yummy fried Hanukkah donut, which has made its way into mainstream Israeli culture as well: sfenj. Ring-shaped and made out of a rich, spongy dough, they are traditionally eaten warm and drizzled with honey or sprinkled with sugar.
Honey is the preferable topping, since it’s especially associated with the Land of Israel, the “land of milk and honey.” (You can learn more about different types of Israeli honey here, and even order some of your own.)
Some Jewish communities have a custom of eating a different type of candy on every night of Hanukkah – and one traditional must-have is halva. The version you’re probably most familiar with, popular in Jewish homes year-round, is Israeli halva: tahini-based and not too sweet, with a dense, crumbly consistency that falls apart in your mouth and many varieties of toppings and flavor additions available. (And If you’re looking for some delicious Israeli-made halva, we have some right in our store.)
However, there are actually several very diverse regional variations of halva: for example Iraqi Jews make it with flour, Indian Jews with agar-agar and milk, while those from the former Soviet Union use a sunflower seed base. If you’re looking to try something different but easy enough to make at home, check out this recipe for soft Iraqi Hanukkah halva, traditionally eaten with a warm flatbread:
- 1 cup white flour
- 1/2 cup oil
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- A few drops of rose water or 1/4 tsp crushed cardamom
- Nuts for garnish
- In a saucepan, mix flour and oil over medium heat and fry, stirring constantly, until the flour is evenly golden.
- Dissolve the sugar in the water and add to the pot, along with the rose water or cardamom. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and uniform (no lumps).
- Pour into a plate and garnish with toasted whole almonds or pistachios. Serve hot.
5. Latkes… with Other Vegetables!
The classic white potato doesn’t hold a monopoly on veggie-pancake fare: Other common vegetables grated and fried as Hanukkah pancakes include zucchini, carrots, butternut squash, pumpkin (particularly common among Syrian Jews), and sweet potato.
Since Hanukkah this year starts on Thanksgiving Weekend for those in the United States, a great way to honor the two holidays and both your American and Jewish heritage can be sweet potato latkes. Give our favorite recipe a try:
- 1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Stir together the potatoes, scallions, eggs, flour, salt, and pepper.
- Heat oil in a deep skillet. Working in batches of 4, spoon about 1/8 cup potato mixture per latke into oil and flatten with a slotted spatula. Cook until golden, and transfer with spatula to paper towels to drain.
- The cook in your life will love these fun and festive Barbara Shaw aprons!
6. Pancakes with Dairy
A perfect way to combine the Hanukkah traditions of dairy and fried foods is to eat pancakes and other fried pastries made with cheese or other types of dairy – not just for breakfast, but filling and festive for any meal! For example, Italian Jews traditionally eat cassola, a pancake made with ricotta cheese and similar to cheesecake, and Indian Jews have gulab jamun, milk-based fried dough balls.
Another fun and tasty way to do cheesy fried pancakes can be cheese-filled blintzes (an Eastern European classic), or even cheese quesadillas (for a Mexican twist).
7. Fried Chicken
Despite the common tradition to eat dairy on Hanukkah, for many Jews it’s just not a true holiday without at least one meat meal, as meat is traditionally associated with celebration and special occasions. Some Jewish communities, particularly those with roots in Italy or Morocco, have fried chicken on Hanukkah, to combine the custom of holiday meat-eating with the Hanukkah-specific tradition of foods fried in oil.
If your family and guests aren’t vegetarian, consider serving some classic, crispy fried chicken at your holiday celebration.
This roll-up treat originated in Poland among Yiddish-speaking Jews, and is today popular in both North America and Israel. Israelis eat it year-round as a sweet shabbat treat, but for many American Jews it’s especially associated with Hanukkah.
Different popular fillings include cinnamon, chocolate, nuts, raisins, marzipan, poppy seed, or fruit preserves. There are also dairy versions, with the dough made with cream cheese or sour cream – especially perfect for the diary-eating tradition of Hanukkah!
Bonus: Dessert Latkes!
Why not try a different, sweet twist on the classic potato pancake? Taking the idea from the Bulgarian Jewish community, we present to you, sugar-coated fried latkes:
- 500 grams grated potatoes
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons flour
- Pinch of salt
- Oil for frying
- 1 cup sugar, regular or powdered
- In a bowl, mix the potatoes with flour and egg until a soft dough is formed. Season with salt.
- Using a tablespoon, form into pancakes and toss in deep hot oil. Fry well and remove onto paper towels to drain the oil.
- Roll in sugar or sprinkle powdered sugar on top. Serve hot.
Happy cooking, and may your Hanukkah be filled with crispy treats and tasty sweets!