Hanukkah 2023: Feasting On The Festival Of Lights

Hanukkah, (also spelled Chanukah), is the 8-day Jewish festival of light celebrated every year on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, according to the Jewish calendar. As Hanukkah is based on lunar cycles, the exact date can change from year to year and in 2024, the festival begins on the 7th of December and continues until the 15th of December. 

‘Hanukkah’ in Hebrew means dedication and the festival is celebrated to mark the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BC after it was overrun by invading forces. In the temple there was a large candelabra with 8 branches, known as the menorah that burned all day and night, providing light to the forces defending the temple and burning on the purest olive oil. When the temple was saved, they quickly realised they only had enough oil to last one more day and though people were sent to fetch more, it was a long trip and they feared the menorah would be extinguished. But in a miracle, that small supply burned for eight whole days until more supplies arrived and ever since, Jewish people have celebrated this miracle by lighting their own menorahs over the course of the eight days of the festival.  

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The festival is a time of family, tradition and joy, and of course, like every culture, where there’s celebration, there’s food too! Since oil is such an integral part of the history of Hannukah, deep-fried foods are a common addition to the feast and kosher dietary laws prohibit the use of pork and shellfish with additional guidelines to follow such as avoiding dairy and meat in the same meal. But around the world, each community has different traditions which are often shaped by the culinary influences of different countries

For example, Jewish food in the United States – which shapes most of the pop culture knowledge people have of Jewish food – predominantly stems from the Ashkenazi tradition, originating from Eastern European Jewish communities. This includes dishes such as bagels, borscht, brisket, smoked fish, stuffed cabbage, and potato latkes.

On the other hand, Jews who established communities in Spain, Portugal, and Arab lands are identified as Sephardic. As a result, their cuisine tends to feature a more vibrant and spicier profile, incorporating spices and herbs like cumin, turmeric, cardamom, cilantro, fresh mint, saffron, and cinnamon. Notably, rice often takes precedence over potatoes as the primary starch. 

In India, the three major Jewish communities, the Bene Israeli Jews, The Cochin Jews and the Baghdadi Jews all have special dishes that represent the flavours of their state of origin. Malida is a common celebratory dish among Bene Israelis which is made with poha (flattened rice) mixed with grated coconut, sugar, chopped nuts and flavoured with cardamom and nutmeg. Among the Cochin Jews, cutlets, potato pakodas and other fried snacks are shared among family and friends. And for the Baghdadi Jews, semolina halva is often added to the Hannukah meals.

Here are 5 dishes you can make to celebrate Hannukah with traditional flavours.

Potato Latkes:

Leaning into the penchant for fried foods, crispy potato latkes are a must. Made from grated potatoes and onions and flattened into thick pancakes they’re then fried to perfection. Serve them with apple sauce or sour cream.


The centrepiece of the festival a succulent brisket is a hearty choice for the main course, providing a comforting and flavourful addition to your Hanukkah feast. Slow-cooked to perfection, the meat is infused with spices, crispy on the outside and tender inside. 


For a taste of India’s Jewish flavours make this sweet treat with flattened rice that’s been thoroughly washed and drained, then mix it with freshly grated coconut, chopped cashew nuts, almonds and pistachios, along with a generous spoonful of sugar. 


No Jewish celebration is complete without the presence of challah. On the first day of Hanukkah, consider baking a festive challah infused with raisins or chocolate chips. The sweet twist on this traditional bread adds a delightful touch to your celebratory table.


Indulge your sweet tooth with the decadence of sufganiyot, fried Hanukkah doughnuts. These pillowy treats are filled with jam or custard and generously dusted with powdered sugar.