In America, Hanukkah food typically refers to two things: latkes, Eastern European fried potato pancakes, and sufganiyot, jelly-filled doughnuts that are favored in Israel and increasingly popular here. While very different in composition, what ties these two foods together is that they are fried in oil — a technique that directly connects to the "miracle of the oil" in the Hanukkah story.
As delicious as they are, however, latkes and sufganiyot are just a small part of Hanukkah's larger food traditions. Here are five lesser known Hanukkah treats from around the world that will add a touch of global flavor to your holiday table.
Jewish cuisine is filled with savory and sweet fritters, many of which are specifically made during the Festival of Lights. From Syrian pumpkin patties to Italian rice fritters, each of these foods enjoys a sizzle in hot oil.
Sfenj (Moroccan Doughnuts)
In Morocco, yeast doughnuts called sfenj - which is similar to other ring-shaped doughnuts, but with a much crisper outside and airier inside - are enjoyed as a breakfast food and street snack. Moroccan Jews traditionally serve them during Hanukkah dipped in sugar or drizzled with simple syrup.
Kibbet Yatkeen (Syrian Pumpkin Patties)
A mix of bulgur and mashed cooked pumpkin dressed up with cumin, coriander, and other spices serve as the base for these fried patties. They can often be found on the tables of Syrian Jews during the winter, and especially during Hanukkah.
Frittelle de Riso Per Hanukkah (Italian Rice Fritters)
Italian Jews are expert fryers all year round, but particularly on Hanukkah. Of all the fried goodies enjoyed during the holiday, frittelle de riso, or rice fritters, are among the most distinctive. The batter is made from cooked rice and eggs and flavored with raisins, pine nuts, and lemon zest before being dropped by the tablespoonful into shimmering oil. Sprinkled with sugar, the result is crunchy outside, custardy within, and particularly addictive.
Bimuelos are akin to doughnut holes, but with a much more freeform shape. According to The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks, the term bimuelo can refer to any number of small, fried doughnuts, fritters, or pancakes. "The doughnut version," he writes, "emerged as the preeminent Sephardic Hanukkah treat and for generations, most households enjoyed homemade fritters at least once or, not infrequently, daily during the holiday."
Keftes de Prasa (Sephardic Leek Fritters)
Keftes are fritters made out of any type of meat, fish, or vegetable — they are wonderful for using up any leftovers you might have on hand. The savory version made with leeks is traditionally served on Rosh Hashanah and Passover, but are common — and delicious — on Hanukkah as well.