Tradition on the table: Chanukah foods have rich history
Chanukah, which roughly translates to "dedication" or "induction," is a Jewish holiday celebrated each year in November and/or December, depending on the Jewish calendar. Although it may not hold the same level of spiritual significance as some other holidays of the religion, Chanukah is a highly-anticipated and popular holiday among people who practice Judaism.
Two miracles are celebrated on Chanukah. One of them is a victory by a small number of Jews known as the Maccabees, who defeated the Greek army occupying the Holy Land. The other miracle occurred when the Maccabees liberated their Temple from the Greeks. They only discovered a single night's worth of oil to light the menorah; however, that oil managed to burn for eight days and nights.
Chanukah celebrations include various traditions that commemorate these miracles, and many celebrations focus around food and fun. It's common to find similar foods in Jewish households during the eight days of Chanukah. Here's a look at some of the more common foods and their significance.
Latkes have different names among the sects of Judaism, but they're essentially fried potato pancakes. Different fried foods, like latkes, are eaten during Chanukah to honor the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days. Other fried foods include jelly-filled doughnuts called "sufganiyot."
These deep-fried puffs dipped in honey or sugar are treats used to represent the cake eaten by the Maccabees.
Dairy was not always included in Chanukah traditions, but cheese, blintzes and cheesecakes emerged to symbolize the story of Judith. Legend says Judith was a beautiful woman who saved her village from attacking Babylonians. Judith was able to enter the enemy camp thanks to her beauty, charm and a basket of wine and cheese she brought along. She fed the enemy general, Holofernes, who consumed lots of salty cheese and wine and passed out. Judith killed the general and the Babylonians left shortly thereafter.
Brisket and tongue
Although these foods are not tied to a particular Chanukah story, they have grown quite popular as traditional Chanukah meals. Beef brisket pairs well with potato latkes, and beef or veal tongue may also be served.
Potatoes are often baked, along with other hearty vegetables, into casseroles called "kugels."
Challah is a leavened bread traditionally baked and served on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. The braided white bread is both attractive to look at and tasty to eat.