Welcome to our new series, How We Celebrate. There are so many incredible days of celebration throughout the calendar year, and nearly all of them involve… food!
We hope this series inspires you to learn about different cultures and try new cuisines. Next on our calendar is Hanukkah. We spoke to Rinkoff Bakery’s Jen and Debs Rinkoff to find out how they’ll be celebrating the Jewish holiday. And what they’ll be eating too!
What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah is a Jewish festival celebrating historic events from more than 2,000 years ago.
In the 2nd century BCE, a group of Jewish people called the Maccabees were able to celebrate their religion freely after they won a three-year battle against the Greeks, who had banned Jewish rituals and tried to make Jewish people pray to Greek Gods. They reclaimed the Temple of Jerusalem, and to celebrate the victory, they lit an oil lamp.
“As the story goes, when the Maccabees were in the desert, the oil they had was supposed to only last a day, but it ended up lasting for eight, so we celebrate Hanukah over eight days,” says Jen Rinkoff, head of new product development and marketing at Rinkoff Bakery.
The date of Hanukkah changes every year, depending on the calendar, but it always falls in November or December. This year, the celebrations begin on Sunday, 28 November.
How do people celebrate Hanukkah?
Hanukkah is celebrated with menorah lighting every night, prayers and plenty of food.
It’s tradition to play with a dreidel, which is a four-sided spinning top – and it’s also customary to give gifts, particularly to children. Typically they’ll receive chocolate coins, referred to as ‘gelt’.
What’s on the Hanukkah menu?
Since the original celebration involved oil, it’s traditional to eat foods fried in oil.
One of the most loved foods typically consumed during Hanukkah is the potato latke, which is a potato pancake made out of ground potatoes and usually mixed with onion, egg, flour and seasoning – and often topped off with some apple sauce or sour cream.
The latke is always evolving – and is now sometimes made with sweet potato, for example.
“Most foods have remained traditional, but an alternative take on the latkes would be to make them with courgette rather than potato, and we’ve adapted our doughnuts to make them suitable for vegans,” says Jen.
“We also make a Crodough, which is a modern take on the traditional jam doughnut, although we don’t make a specific Hanukah flavour, we do fry the Crodoughs in oil.”
Beef brisket is another Hanukkah favourite, served as a main dish, as is kugel, an egg noodle dish that can either be made sweet or savoury.
Matzo ball soup is another staple; soup dumplings made with matzo meal, eggs, water, and butter or oil.
For dessert, one popular dish is the Sufganiyah doughnut, which is usually filled with custard or jam and coated in sugar. People have become more creative in recent years, and you can now find Sufganiyah filled with delights such as caramel or chocolate cream.
And, of course, there’s the bread – one go-to is challah, a delicious braided bread.
Debs Rinkoff, head of sales at Rinkoff Bakery, says the potato latkes are her favourite.
“You can eat these with apple sauce, or sour cream. I like mine with vinegar, which is probably not very traditional. At Rinkoff, we see the sufganiyot [jelly doughnuts] as the most popular Hanukah food, and we often get people calling up throughout the year to see if we’ve started making them yet.”