Hanukkah, like any other festival, has some typical food traditions associated with it. For instance, it is customary to eat baked or fried foods. Preferably olive oil is used for making the dishes. This custom is based on the miracle that took place during the rededication of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. After the victory of Maccabees, the Temple was rededicated and the Menorah had to be lighted. But the Jewish High Priest, Kohen Gadol discovered that only a small quantity of olive oil was there. This oil could burn the Menorah just for one day. But, miraculously, the Menorah burnt for eight days and since then, Hanukkah had been observed as an eight-day festival. From this history, came up the custom of having foods cooked in olive oil. Some Jewish scholars have drawn a similarity between the oil and Torah. They believe that like Torah, oil illuminates the world and so is an integral part of the Hanukkah festival.
People also consume dairy products during the eight days of Hanukkah. These products too have symbolic association like the fried items. Judith, a pious widow, had played an integral role in the liberation of the Jews. She had gone to the enemy camp and pretended to surrender. There she met Holofernes, the governor of Syrians, who was highly attracted by the lady’s beauty. She went to his tent and offered him cheese and wine. As soon as Holofernes fell asleep, she beheaded him and escaped from the camp. This incident shattered the Syrians and on the other hand, strengthened the Jews and led to the historic victory. Since then, consumption of dairy products has been introduced as a major food tradition of the festival.
Traditional Foods of Hanukkah
Latke forms one of the principal foods of Hanukkah. It stands for the cheesecakes that were served by the widow Judith. They are basically potato pancakes that are cooked by frying the mixture of grated potatoes, eggs, onions and flour in vegetable oil. By deep-frying, latkes become crisp and are served hot with applesauce or sour cream.
Sufganiyots are basically jelly doughnuts, made without the hole. They don't have any particular shape. The batter is simply put into a pan containing hot oil and when they come out, they acquire different funny shapes. Thereafter, they are wrapped in powdered sugar and/or cinnamon. Sufganiyots are particularly popular in Israel.
Jews have Loukomades as another tradition food for the festival of Hanukkah. These are deep-fried puffs. Loukomades are dipped in sugar or honey to symbolize the cakes eaten by the Maccabees. The Jews have these puffs along with Sufganiyot and zelebi.
People also bake butter cookies, called pretzels, in the shape of Hanukkah symbols. These cookies are a great delight, especially for the children. In fact, kids can be taught a lot about the festival, using the symbols made on the cookies.