Why We Eat Latkes on Hanukkah

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Why We Eat Latkes on Hanukkah

why we eat latkes on hanukkah
Latkes Anyone?

Happy Hanukkah (or Chanukah) to all who observe! As we celebrate the Festival of Lights, I wanted to share a traditional potato latke recipe that’s super easy to make and delicious. And whether you celebrate Hanukkah or not, I promise you’ll enjoy these tasty fried bites of heaven. But before I get to that yumminess, I thought it would be fun to share a brief history lesson on why we eat latkes on Hanukkah.

So, Why Do We Eat Latkes on Hanukkah?

eating latkes on hanukkah
Potato Pancakes Are a Perfect Side Dish for Many Meals

The simple answer is that it’s supposed to remind us of the miracle of the oil associated with Hanukkah.

Hanukkah commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people (led by Judah Maccabee) from the Syrian Greeks and the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. When it came time for the Jews to re-sanctify the temple, the oil used for rituals was needed to light the candelabra. And, despite only having enough oil for one day, the oil miraculously lasted eight days. And there you have it – why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight nights!

And so, to celebrate this miracle, Jews eat foods cooked in oil.

But why potato latkes, exactly? We don’t know!

Historians don’t know which foods existed before the 14th century when dairy and fried foods emerged. And potatoes didn’t make their entrance in Israel until the 19th century.

But in the 15th century, Italian Jews were eating cassola, a fried ricotta cheese pancake (basically the first latke). Then, somewhere along the line, potatoes replaced cheese. So while the origins of potato latkes and Hanukkah are a bit of a mystery, they remain an essential food during these eight special days.

By the way, fried cheese commemorates Judith, a heroine central to Hanukkah celebrations. As the story goes, Judith (a young widow) entered an enemy camp and stopped the siege of Jerusalem by cutting off the head of the army’s general (what a boss lady – talk about courage!). That explains why Italian Jews ate fried ricotta cheese latkes. Judith deserves a blog post of her own!

This one located in the Jewish Women’s Archive is worth reading.

A Simple, Easy, Delicious Latke Recipe

sizzle sizzle hanukkah latkes
Sizzle, Sizzle, Sizzle

 This traditional potato latke recipe is so easy to make. Don’t skimp on the oil, and some cooks use matzo meal instead of flour. While I recommend frying these as the recipe calls for, you can bake them for about 45 minutes at 325° F.

Sour Cream, Applesauce, or Both? The Great Latke Debate

served with sour cream and applesauce
No Need to Choose Between Sour Cream or Applesauce – Have Both!

Latkes are usually served with sour cream or applesauce. Some people have both. There’s no right or wrong answer (although some people would disagree!). Ultimately, whatever you decide to serve with your latkes, I’m sure you won’t have any unhappy campers. And whether you’re celebrating Hanukkah or simply want to explore a new dish, potato latkes are sure to be a hit.

Final note: Latkes are a perfect side dish for many recipes. The next time you’re whipping up a brisket or meatloaf, think about latkes. Heck, don’t just think about them; fry up a batch. Or bake. No matter how you prepare them, I’m guessing you won’t have any left when the meal is over – although they do freeze beautifully!

lighting the menorah
Happy Hanukkah to All Who Celebrate! Chag Sameach!

If you’re interested in Jewish cooking in general, you must check out Jake Cohen’s book, which I’ve reviewed, called Jew-ish, A Cookbook: Reinvented recipes from a Modern Mensch. IT IS FABULOUS! Or, if you’re into more traditional Jewish cooking, try The Complete Guide To Traditional Jewish Cooking by Marlena Spieler. And if you’re into Kosher cooking, The Modern Jewish Table: 100 Kosher Recipes from Around the Globe, by Tracey Fine is a terrific choice.

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  • Reply
    Rosemary Davis
    December 4, 2021 at 2:24 pm

    This is so interesting. I love anything potato!
    Thanks for sharing!


    • Reply
      Gwen Gottlieb
      December 7, 2021 at 12:46 pm

      I never met a potato I didn’t like, lol!

  • Reply
    December 4, 2021 at 2:49 pm

    Happy Hanukkah Gwen! I bought some latkes and noodle kugel at the grocery store this morning. Yum!

    • Reply
      Gwen Gottlieb
      December 7, 2021 at 12:46 pm

      We love noodle kugel, too! My mom makes the best kugel!

  • Reply
    jodie filogomo
    December 4, 2021 at 7:32 pm

    I made these a couple of times but only frying them, which always seems to take so much time and is messy. I might try baking them next time.

    • Reply
      Gwen Gottlieb
      December 7, 2021 at 12:45 pm

      I have to say baking is much easier – but they don’t crisp up quite as much. I’ll take mine either way!

  • Reply
    Veldene Bergen
    December 6, 2021 at 11:37 am

    Love this post Gwen! I found it so interesting, thank you for giving a little peek into the Jewish culture!

    • Reply
      Gwen Gottlieb
      December 7, 2021 at 12:44 pm

      Thanks so much for taking a peek! I appreciate it! xo

  • Reply
    jess jannenga
    December 6, 2021 at 5:26 pm

    Gwen, you are certainly making me crave potato pancakes! Oh yum. My mom would often make them as a side with our Ukrainian perogies for dinner. We often had sour cream, but I love the sweet applesauce too. Thank you for the history too! Great post!
    jess xx

    • Reply
      Gwen Gottlieb
      December 7, 2021 at 12:43 pm

      Now I’m in the mood for perogies!! Those sound delicious! xo gwen

  • Reply
    December 7, 2021 at 1:47 pm

    I am so happy that you shared a recipe with us!
    Traditions and faith are why we gather around the table at my house.
    As it is in your home!
    I didn’t know the Italian Jews probably created the first latkes from cassolas!

    • Reply
      Gwen Gottlieb
      December 8, 2021 at 7:43 am

      Totally agree, Robin! Nothing better than gathering with family and friends and sharing those traditions. Thanks for reading! Happy holidays! xo

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