Latke Fest takes a Hanukkah staple to the streets

A new Jewish Community Center event invites area residents to taste and rank local latkes.

© GreenArt, Adobe Stock

The latke—a fried potato pancake that’s a mainstay of Hanukkah cuisine—is on the front burner at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia’s first Latke Fest.

Photo by Zvi Jalfin

From Dec. 12-20, locals can visit participating restaurants—Ted’s Bulletin, Paddy Barry’s, Bentley’s Diners, Chutzpah Deli, Celebrity Delly and Original Pancake House—to sample and judge each spot’s spin on the pancake. It’s an endeavor that aims to unite local eateries and community members, who can judge each latke via online polls and on social media for the chance to win a $50 gift card. The JCC’s cultural arts director Sarah Berry tells us more:

Give us an overview of the event.

The idea is that restaurants across Northern Virginia will be featuring their take on the latke for the eight nights of Hanukkah 2017. We are doing it because we want to meet the community where they are; we want people to get to know local eateries; we want local chefs to infuse Jewish traditions into their menus and also make Jewish traditions fresh again. It is a time of year that a Jewish holiday gets more play than other Jewish holidays because it’s been elevated by Christmas, although it’s a minor holiday in Judaism. And so it’s a great way to have non-Jews participate at a low-barrier-for-access way. And it’s supposed to be fun and give Jews something cool to do out in the community that’s not a religious event.

What are the rules in terms of ingredients?

It should be kosher-style at the diner’s request, so no pork or shellfish [and] it can’t contain both meat and dairy in the same dish. We are not asking the latke to be fried. It doesn’t even have to be made of potatoes. It can be vegetarian, vegan, carnivorous. It can be on the dessert menu.

For people who aren’t knowledgeable about Hanukkah, can you speak to why the latke is tied to the holiday?

During Hanukkah, it’s a tradition to eat latkes fried in oil to remind us of the miracle of the oil; our historical hero Judah Maccabee found oil that he thought would last one night in his lamp but instead the flame burned for eight nights, thus Hanukkah is eight nights. It’s disputed, but that event took place roughly in 165 B.C., and potato pancakes did not become part of Hanukkah tradition until Eastern Europe in the 19th century; that was when the first potato pancake recipe was recorded. And we hope this will be a new tradition for Hanukkah.

What is your favorite latke preparation?

Traditionally latkes are enjoyed with sour cream and applesauce—I like to make my own applesauce. I add a lot of cinnamon, and I really like adding cardamom, and I leave the skin on the apple. And some lemon zest.