This year, Chanukah begins on the 5th and ends on the 12th of December.
A brief history
Chanukah is the Festival of Lights which is celebrated for eight days to remember the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus of Syria. Chanukah also commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in 164 BC and the miracle that occurred after the Jews regained their temple. When the Jerusalem Temple was recaptured and re-consecrated by the Maccabbees, only one night's worth of oil remained to light the temple.
Miraculously, though, the oil lasted eight nights, or enough time to make more oil. That's the miracle of Chanukah.
An oily affair
Traditionally Chanukah food is oil-rich and fried in commemoration of the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days. Not exactly good for the heart or figure but its tradition, so who are we to argue with all the yiddisha mamma's out there?
The two most popular Chanukah foods are latkes (potato pancakes or hash browns) and sufganiot (jam doughnuts) which are both fried in oil. Growing up Chanukah was my favourite holiday; because of the delicious mini jam doughnuts. You have to love a religion where eating doughnuts is mandatory.
Among Ashkenazi Jews, who are of Eastern European and Russian descent (and many who now live in sunny South Africa), latkes are the food of choice. Latkes are cooked by frying the mixture of grated potatoes, eggs, onions and flour in vegetable oil. The Maccabbee battlefield soldiers used to eat latkes made from cheese, vegetables, or fruits. Making latkes is a real labour of love with the ritual of peeling, grating, mixing and slinging spoonfuls of batter into hot, spluttering oil.
The sufganiyots, don't have any particular shape and are simply put into the pan containing hot oil. Thereafter, they are wrapped in powdered sugar and/or cinnamon. Sufganiyots are supposed to be a reminder of the cakes hurriedly prepared for the Maccabees as they went into battle.
Chanukah, it's the big cheese
Cheese dishes are also traditionally eaten over the festival in honour of the heroic widow Judith, who lulled an Assyrian general to sleep with wine and cheese before killing him to save her people and for this reason, Jews eat cheese delicacies on Chanukah.
Along with all the fried and cheesy delicacies, yummy brisket dishes are eaten and a firm holiday favourite, kugel, and no this isn't a Jewish girl! Kugel, which evolved from German steamed dumpling, is a Jewish food that is popular for all occasions. There are literally dozens of variations of kugel, including those made from noodles, vegetables, fruits and dairy. It's delish!
Jenna Shevel is Food24's resident kugel and was happy to share her Chanukah experiences with us.