You don’t have to be Jewish to celebrate Hanukkah, the “Festival of Lights”. The deeper message beyond the brightly burning flames of the menorah candles is more relevant than ever this year, in essence it is about keeping hope through testing times. And, let’s face it, any excuse for festivities is welcome. What’s more Hanukkah arrives well before Christmas (Thursday December 10th) and lasts a whole eight days.
The food is enticingly sunny and suitably indulgent: preferably fried in oil to commemorate the miracle of the temple oil. Chief among offerings are scandalously moreish grated potato and onion latkes (fritters) or pastries coated in honey. If you want to make a batch at home then this traditional recipe is worth a try.
Sufaniyot, round deep-fried jam or custard filled doughnuts, are synonymous with Hanukkah and derived from a yeast dough first mentioned in the Talmud.
Hanukkah means “rededication” and commemorates the Jews’ struggle for religious freedom, when the leaders of a Jewish rebel army called the Maccabees rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors trying to ban Judaism in the Maccabean Revolt of 167 BC (BCE). When they regained control of Jerusalem, they wanted to rededicate the desecrated temple, but could find only one container of the sacred olive oil needed which had the seal of the high priest still intact. According to legend, although there was only enough oil for one day the candles miraculously stayed alight for eight days – the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the menorah.
A note on challah
Back in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jewish people would traditionally separate 1/24th of the dough and give it as an offering to the high priests. This sacrificial piece of dough is also referred to as challah. The practice still lives on today via the requisite separation of a small portion of challah dough that must be burned either before or after the rest of the bread is baked. This is done regardless of whether the bread is being made at home or in one of London’s many kosher bakeries. A traditional recipe for making challah at home can be found here.
New Jewish food has become hugely popular in recent years, merging the best of Eastern European Ashkenazi dishes with the spices of the Sephardic, a Middle Eastern Jewish culinary heritage which makes me, a Jewish food writer, especially chuffed, and just a little proud.
Here’s what to try in London and beyond:
With influences from the Barbary coast to Jerusalem whose Machneyuda restaurants were a huge inspiration, the Barbary with its high horseshoe shaped bar is a magical place to watch fragrant, jewel covered dishes finished in front of you. Much of the menu including their “Nishnushim” snack menu can now be delivered to your home. I suffer serious cravings for the Ashkenazi chopped liver especially on their phenomenal challah (egg enriched braided bread). The muhummera and smoked roe are outstanding with pitta chips to dip. Mains may include an Ethiopian spiced fish stew or Moroccan chicken tagine. Exceptional desserts include an orange water imbued pistachio malabi.
Honey & Co
Both Honey & Spice and Honey & Smoke remain open for takeout and deliveries within 12 miles of their restaurants which have pivoted to food shops. Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich famously trained with Ottolenghi. Ready for festivities, through December, their signature Jordanian Royal Lamb Mansaf is available for delivery alongside an extensive range of their menu including their incomparable creamy whipped feta and kataifi cheesecake, topped with nuts, blueberries and a drizzle of honey. Many of their biscuits (sumac and vanilla cookies are superb) and deli products can be delivered too. www.honeyandco.co.uk
This year we’ve needed Ottolenghi’s vibrant, uplifting food more than ever. Fortunately, Ottolenghi really are on Deliveroo delivering salads such as roasted aubergine with green harissa tahini, preserved lemon, fine herbs and salted broad beans and cakes including the divine lemon, pistachio and polenta sponges from their London restaurants.
What’s more, Ottolenghi Ready meal kits are available for delivery Tuesday- Thursday nationwide, encompassing signature Nopi twice cooked chicken with chilli sauce and lemon myrtle salt with sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf and smashed cucumber salad, Rovi’s much loved celeriac shawarma plus Shakshuka kits with a ready made sauce, orange juice, labneh, coriander cress, Clarence Court eggs and focaccia, the closest to Tel Aviv in bed. For emergency morale boosting evenings, there are ready–to-heat dishes including ricotta and beef meatballs, pulled lamb tagine and braised spinach, paneer, herbs and lime which can be frozen for up to a month too).
Chef Eran Tibi, a Yotam Ottolenghi alumni, brings a slice of Tel Aviv to Southwark. The restaurant itself is loud and buzzing. There’s a similar sense of energy and innovation in their delivery menu (local area only) that majors on loaded pittas. The fluffy pita is made in the restaurant. Try pita loaded with short-rib, plums, tahini, green harissa and pickles or salted trout with dill cream, buttered ratte potatoes and pickles or mains including apricot and shawarma lamb chops with pistachio and lemon tahini. The burnt babka with chocolate and hazelnut is a must.
Eat New York
Eat New York which started out as a street food truck, now has restaurants/take-outs in Manchester’s Northern Quarter and Prestwich selling their exceptionally generously filled bagels and burgers. The salt beef and pastrami are cooked and cured in house. The pastrami burger comes with Russian dressing and sauerkraut. For vegetarians, there’s a bagel ganoush with tempura aubergine, smoked chipotle tomato sauce, baba ganoush and salad.
The Good Egg
Tel Aviv meets New York in Kingly Court, Carnaby Street and Stoke Newington in welcoming white washed dining rooms. They offer a good line in Hanukkah brisket (available in bagels to take out currently in Stokie). The Good Egg have truly put babka on the foodie radar and deliver both ready made chocolate and tahini babka and babka kits nationwide. The babka is fantastic toasted should there be leftovers. Order by 9pm every Wednesday (the kit is £24.98, ready made baka is £12 or £25) and the kit is delivered the following Friday.
Needing a salt beef fix? Monty’s Deli based in Kerb’s Covent Garden major on what owner Mark Ogus calls “Jewish Soul Food” namely freshly baked bagels, superlative Reuben’s sandwiches and babka. As well as condiments, baked goods, and cured meats, the deli’s stacked sandwiches can now be recreated at home. Kits include salt beef, salmon or pastrami and start from £15. Nationwide delivery is available Tuesday to Friday.
The name comes from a Yiddish term of endearment that translates roughly as “sweeties”. Fully vegetarian, it is the first restaurant of head chef Helen Graham (ex The Good Egg) and front-of-house Marc Summers. During lockdown, they are delivering an irresistible vegetarian feast including potato latkes with toum (Lebanese garlic sauce) pickles, laffa bread, labneh with confit garlic & za’atar, hummus, falafel, halloumi with black seed honey, conft of carrot tzimmes, whipped cauliflower & hawajai Yemenite spice mix of cumin, black pepper, turmeric and cardamom.
£50 for 2-3. Order via dispatch for delivery nationwide on Fridays.
A St John’s institution since the 1940’s, Panzer’s newish owner David Josephs gave the deli a smart refit. They still offer three different cures of smoked salmon sliced by
hand to order with impeccable bagels (a Sunday morning tradition in many families) and now offer Square Mile coffee as well as sushi, all manner of exotic, kosher and American gifts and hampers. Nigella Lawson regularly avails herself of their delivery service and Yotam Ottolenghi is a fan too.
Hampstead’s kosher Delicatessen run by Israeli, Ottolenghi alumni, Or Golan specialises in Jewish classics given a Tel Aviv spin. Presently, the take-out street food dishes, especially laffa bread stuffed with chicken schnitzel or green falafel, tomato salsa, pickles, sumac onions and tahini are flying. Every Friday the restaurant cooks up magnificent ready-to-eat food to take away for Shabbat such as Moroccan spiced tomato Chraime fish stew, lamb koftas with chickpea salad and rose petal malabi. Note they are closed Friday and Saturday for shabbat.
Eastern Mediterranean travels inform the cooking of Limor & Amir Chen’s Delamina in Marylebone. Presently, they’re offering takeout/delivery on favourites such as grilled aubergines smothered with black sesame, mixed leaves, sprinkled roasted almond, golden raisins, and finished with a tamarind dressing. There’s an enticing Christmas 2020 menu of specials such as Jerusalem artichokes with whipped manouri, turkey shawarma, dates, pine nuts, pickles and kataifi vanilla cheesecake with caramelised pecans.
Karma Bread Bakehouse
A lovely cosy bakery/cafe close to Hampstead Heath on South End Green owned by Tami Issacs Pearce who bakes superb
glossy challah on site. Hanukkah is not complete without doughnuts in flavours including salted caramel, honey, tahini, custard cream, despite strawberry jam.
Sourdough challah with a winning tang distinguishes Michelle Eshkeri’s East Finchley bakery. Such is the regard for her baking finesse that her challah is now stocked by La Fromagerie as well as Panzer. Sweet sourdough baking is Eshkeri’s speciality (try her croissants, babka, cinnamon buns and seasonal panettone too) and the subject of her first book “Modern Sourdough” just published this autumn.
Baked by Steph
Irish Italian fashion designer turned baking entrepreneur Stephanie Giordano has a lot of Jewish customers. This year, she has added an exquisite set of vanilla iced Hanukkah cookies shaped as menorah, Torah and more to her repertoire. £28 plus p & p
Established in Stepney back in 1911 by emigre from Kievs. Rinkoff’s speciality is a 100 year old traditional raisin challah and a more recent innovation crodoughs.
J. Grodzinski & Daughters
In 1888, bakers Harris and Judith Grodzinksi emigrated from Lithuania and set up shop initially from a barrow which grew into a London-wide, still in the family bakery, a favourite of my grandma. Presently, their Edgware bakery delivers elaborate celebration challahs shaped like grapes and menorahs London-wide.
Original co-owner of Gail’s, Ran Avidan hails from Tel Aviv and ensures that Jewish produce has remained on the menu since they opened fifteen years ago, including challah every Friday.
Mancunians swear by Brackman’s for their impeccable kosher bagels, breads and doughnuts. Presently, they are delivering locally to Broughton Park, Prestwich & Whitefields
Sudi Pigott will be running an online Latke cook-along class on December 12th. Details here