Hanukkah without latkes is like Thanksgiving without turkey - just about everyone who celebrates the eight-day holiday will eat the fried potato-based patty at least once.
But latkes and sufganiyot - jelly-filled doughnuts that are the second most traditional Hanukkah food - don't make a single meal, let alone eight ones. For Hanukkah parties and family dinners, Jews often serve favorite foods that connect them with their Eastern European and Russian ancestry. The most common main dish is brisket, but other traditional foods include noodle kugel, stuffed cabbage and tzimmes.
Perhaps because latkes and sufganiyot are symbolic foods, most people eat them only at Hanukkah. Cooked in oil, they represent the miracle of Hanukkah, when a one-day supply of oil lit the temple ritual lamp for eight days. That miracle has come to symbolize the victory of light over darkness and endurance over destruction when the Jews won a battle to reclaim their temple in Jerusalem.
On the Hanukkah menu at The Fireside Restaurant in Brookline, Mass., owner Jim Solomon will offer two versions of latkes - made from white and sweet potatoes - and doughnuts stuffed with homemade strawberry rhubarb preserves.
Instead of the traditional brisket he grew up eating, Solomon will feature braised short ribs, prepared similar to brisket but a different cut of meat.
"Braised meats are real comfort food," Solomon said. "You throw some basic ingredients together and transform a peasant cut of meat into a plateful of deliciousness. It doesn't take a lot of preparation so people can spend time with their family.
But some traditional dishes can be time consuming to prepare, which is one reason many people buy stuffed cabbage and tzimmes rather than make it. Steve Robbins, owner of Maxie's Deli in Stoughton, Mass., uses recipes from his grandparents for his stuffed cabbage and tzimmes, a sweet stew of carrots, potatoes and fruit.
"Both these dishes are sweet, so they're wonderful for the holidays," he said.