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Celebrate Hanukkah With 8 Foods From Around the World

Go beyond traditional latkes for your festival of lights menu

A mother tears challah while her family enjoys the Hanukkah festivities.
halbergman/Getty Images

For many Jews celebrating Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights isn’t complete without the classic latke, a fried potato pancake. ​

But in many other countries, Jews have drawn on the local culture for the Hanukkah menu, so the celebratory meal includes a variety of foods that aren’t as common on the U.S. table. Oil, however, always plays a starring role. ​

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Hanukkah is the eight-day celebration commemorating the recovery of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Second Temple in the second century B.C. As the story goes, there was only consecrated oil enough for one day, yet it lasted eight, and so Jews celebrate this miracle, in part by consuming foods cooked in oil. ​

“I love that we’re encouraged to eat comfort foods and gather together,” says Shannon Sarna, food editor at The Nosher and author of Modern Jewish Comfort Food. “There’s deliciousness and candlelight, something positive when it’s dark and cold outside. Once or twice a year, isn’t it great to indulge and enjoy the tradition?” ​

Here are eight foods from Jewish cultures around the world:​

Fried Chicken
Ray Kachatorian

1. Fried chicken 

We might think of this dish as American picnic fare, but in Italy, particularly in Tuscany, fried chicken is on the Hanukkah menu, says Benedetta Jasmine Guetta, author of Cooking alla Giudia, a celebration of the Jewish food of Italy. “It’s simple and easy to make,” says Guetta, who grew up in Milan. Before frying, the chicken marinates in olive oil, lemon juice, water, garlic and salt. “The traditional way to make it is to start with a whole chicken, carve it, and then fry the pieces bone in and skin on, but working with chicken parts simplifies the process.” Guetta says many Italian Jews will pair fried chicken with risotto with raisins.​

2. Chicken levivot

Fried chicken and a fritter all in one. What could be better? This Moroccan Jewish dish adds warmth and spice with cinnamon, fennel, sage, bay leaves and allspice. Dip the fried chicken-potato patties in a mixture of oil, garlic, lemon juice and harissa, a spicy North African sauce made of chiles, garlic, olive oil, citrus and spices like cumin, coriander, caraway seeds and cayenne pepper. ​



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Cheese Blintzes
Getty Images

3. Blintzes

Dairy foods don’t normally come to mind when people think of Hanukkah, but it’s a tradition that honors the heroine Judith, whose story is read during Hanukkah. In the Book of Judith, she defeats the Assyrian attacker Holofernes by sneaking into his camp, feeding him salty cheese, which made him thirsty, and then plying him with wine. When he became too intoxicated to go through with his mission, Judith beheaded him. And yes, cheese is the important part of this story. ​

Blintzes likely originated in Slavic countries from the Russian pancake blin. Imagine a crepe surrounding a sweet, creamy filling (usually farmer’s cheese) and fried. Syrian Jews celebrate Hanukkah with similar fare known as atayef, which are filled with cream of rice and ricotta and look a bit like puffy cannoli. They’re traditionally dipped in a syrup infused with rose or orange blossom water. ​

4. Ricotta croquettes

Diaspora Jews took their traditions with them wherever they landed and bolstered them with local ingredients. A take on the fried cheese theme, these Mexican beauties feature a mix of requesón (Mexican ricotta), queso cremita (a soft, white cheese with a slightly tangy taste), crumbled cotija (a firm, aged cheese), Chihuahua cheese (like a cheddar and easily melted) and cream cheese. Covered in matzo meal and bread crumbs and fried, the croquettes are delicious dipped in a sweet-and-spicy salsa that balances out the rich flavor.​

Ray Kachatorian

5. Pezzetti fritti 

These fried vegetables served for Hanukkah in Rome were “born mostly out of necessity,” Guetta says. “Jews were poor and would sell fried scraps of vegetables on the streets, which became a traditional food for Hanukkah. A lot of Jewish Italian recipes have a similar story. Out of circumstances that weren’t always great, cooks and housewives made delicious dishes.” ​



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The vegetables — cauliflower, Romanesco broccoli, artichokes and pumpkin — are battered in a mixture of flour, salt and beer (or water) and deep fried. Pair the pezzetti fritti with squash blossoms (zucchini flowers) rolled in mozzarella and anchovies then tossed in the same batter and fried (known as fiori di zucca). ​

6. Popletas

A typical Moroccan street food, these meat-filled potato dumplings are savored by Jewish Moroccans at Hanukkah. Popletas are simple to make with ground beef, egg, potatoes and flour. New York Shuk founders Ron & Leetal Arazi give theirs a boost by mixing in the spicy North African sauce called harissa. ​

Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

7. Tostones

Fried plantains add a bit of crunch to Cuban Jews’ Hanukkah celebration. The large banana-like fruit (a good source of potassium and fiber) is a staple of Cuban cuisine and is often served fried as maduros, a sweet dish. Tostones, on the other hand, are made from unripe green plantains. These are peeled, cut, fried quickly, smashed down, sprinkled with kosher salt and served hot. There’s even a device called a tostonera made just for flattening the plantains. ​

8. Doughnuts

Every culture has its doughnut, and Jews around the world celebrate Hanukkah with some version of the circular sweet. In Israel it’s jelly doughnuts known as sufganyiot. Culinary and cultural historian Michael Twitty, author of Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of An African American Jew, says he likes to grace his American Jewish table with the Louisiana fried dough “beignets done Café Du Monde style.” In Italy, Jews share bomboloni, which are filled with pastry cream or custard. Moroccan Jews serve up sfenj, a popular street food made of a rustic ring-shaped fried dough rolled in sugar. For the Arazis, “Sfenj is Hanukkah.” They dip theirs in saffron syrup or rose syrup, or roll them in kafe hawaij sugar (a blend that includes cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and clove).

Let the festivities begin!

Getty Images

A Twist on the Traditional

Those celebrating Hanukkah don’t have to give up on latkes, but for variety, why not try something a bit different, like ma’akouda, Moroccan potato patties, spiced with cumin, black pepper, onion powder and garlic. Author Michael Twitty says he’s going to make his Louisiana-style latkes — “maybe with collards layered between them.” And he is “pushing the oil theme with salads with olive oil, roasted root and cruciferous vegetables, and matzo meal fried chicken. Oh, and maybe apple butter blintzes.” ​

Michael Twitty’s Louisiana-style latkes:


  • 2 cups peeled and shredded Yukon gold or russet potatoes​
  • 1 tablespoon grated onion​
  • 1 tablespoon chopped celery​
  • 2 tablespoons green onion​
  • 1 small minced garlic clove​
  • 1 pinch of thyme​
  • ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper — powder or flakes​
  • 3 eggs, beaten​
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, matzo meal or potato starch​
  • 1½ teaspoons salt​
  • ½ cup peanut oil for frying ­— canola or vegetable oil if you have allergies​


1. Wring the shredded potato in a cheesecloth, and repeat several times to extract as much moisture as you can.​

2. In a medium bowl stir the ingredients together.​

3. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot. Most recipes call for 350–375 degrees. Place a heaping tablespoon and a half of the potato mixture into the hot oil, pressing down on them to form ¼- to ½-inch-thick patties. 

4. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Let drain on paper towels. 

5. Serve hot with an extra dusting of hot pepper and a few slices of green onion. Dips to try: applesauce, sour cream and maybe some sweet chili sauce (sugar, vinegar, salt, garlic, chili, pepper).​