Food For The Feast: Hanukkah

Hanukkah food feast
In 2013, Hanukkah runs from November 27th (next Thursday) to December 5th, with the dates changing every year. The holiday has origins in keeping a candle lit by oil, and therefore, much of the food related to this holiday involve oil.

Either baked or fried, many of the foods use oil in some regard. The most iconic of these foods is the latke, Yiddish for “potato pancake”. Jam-filled donuts are common amongst some families, and bimuelos (fried dough balls, similar to donut holes) and sufganiyah (two circles of dough covering a jam and fried together) continue the trend of fried sweets.

For a main meal, challah bread, beef brisket, and kugel are staples.

  • Challah is a braided bread that is traditionally parve (containing no dairy or meat), sometimes including raisins or topped with sesame seeds.
  • Beef brisket is one of the most popular cuts, and can be turned into corned beef or pastrami. For a meal such as this, it is traditionally braised as a pot roast.
  • Kugel is a casserole, traditionally composed of egg noodles or potatoes. Some believe eating this dish brings special spiritual blessings.

Much of this meal can be prepared in advance, requiring little work to be done when it’s time to eat. Even if you don’t celebrate the holiday, foods traditional to it are delicious and interesting, if you’ve never had the chance.

Notably, this is the only year in everyone’s lives that has Hanukkah start the same day as Thanksgiving, or at least the night before. This has lead to the unique cultural concept of Thanksgivukkah, a rare occurrence that won’t happen until the year 79811. This unique and fun concept and combination has lead to general humor towards the event, such as featuring the “menurky” (menorah + turkey), pardoning kosher turkeys, and general combined plans celebrating the combination of freedom-celebrating holidays.

If you’d like to focus on Hanukkah as a possible celebration in your restaurant, you may want to consider staying open late on Wednesday night, since celebrations start at nightfall. Given that the following day is Thanksgiving, you may want to close early and allow your staff to honor both holidays. There’s always the chance that you’ll be a destination spot for the holiday, but if it’s in question, you may just want to play it safe and keep things nice for your staff.

If you’d like to focus on Jewish dishes throughout the month, there’s two key bits to remember; the actual holiday of Hanukkah is centered around oil, so fried foods fit in great, and everything should be kosher. There’s no justification in a unplanned Hanukkah meal that accidentally features ham or bacon, crab, and cheeseburgers. While you can have fun for the event, remember that for many it is a solemn religious observance.