Celebrating Hanukkah - the Indian Way

By Foodism Team




Celebrating Hanukkah - the Indian Way 

The Jewish community in India is a significant fragment of the Indian subcontinent. They came to India escaping the persecution a long time ago, and have since then integrated into the Indian culture and society seamlessly. 

Essentially, three groups of Israelis came to India and were categorised by the city they settled in, by the route they travelled or by their native names.  These three categories are The Cochin Israeli community, the Bene Israeli community and the Baghdadi Israeli community. They integrated themselves into local communities very organically but managed to retain a lot of their long-established traditional rituals from home. 

The traditional festivals of the Jewish people went through a major metamorphosis as well. For a lot of Jewish families, the celebration of Hanukkah evolved during their stays in these Indian cities and so did the traditional food made during the festivities. 

The Significance of Hanukkah

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an occasion that celebrates the victory of the Maccabean rebels and the rededication of the Second Temple. It usually falls around the same time as Christmas and the idea of having a homely dinner with your close friends and family is crucial for the Jewish community. 

There are a lot of dishes that are made during a customary observance of Hanukkah in various parts of the world. The idea behind these meals is to have the entire family dine together and commemorate the struggle of their community. 

Here is a list of some of the conventional dishes made during the holy festival of Hanukkah: 

The Latkes, the Jewish version of Hash Browns are pretty famous. The Jewish holiday briskets are also quite popular all over the world and are made during grand family get-togethers and special occasions. Sufganiyot, fried Jewish doughnuts filled with jelly and jam, will surely win you over immediately. 

An Indian Hanukkah 

Traditional Jewish recipes saw a lot of localized influence ranging from ingredients to cooking styles. They incorporated several local ingredients in their traditional recipes that were readily available in the regions they resided in. For example, for the Cochin Jews, the potato Latkes changed into onion fritters; for the Bene Israeli, Vada Pav became the replacement for Latkes. Coconut milk, coconut oil and rice became a massive part of both the Cochin and Bene Israelis’ lifestyle. Beef got replaced with Chicken and fish. The doughnuts got replaced by laddoos, sweet rice, halwa. The ingredients might have changed drastically but the essence of the dish remained the same. 

These dishes are made during several other celebratory days as per the Jewish calendar like Sabbath, Passover, Rosh Hashanah or Hanukkah. 

Jews have a lot of rules in the regulations of Kashrut. It is a list of food items and ingredients that they are allowed to consume. One of the rules explains why seafood, meat and milk products shouldn’t be used together. The Bene Israeli make a beautiful coconut fish curry during their festivities. By replacing milk or cream with coconut milk, the Indian Jews ensure they follow their kosher traditions while also respecting the local culture.

The Baghdadi Jewish food had a Mediterranean influence on their dishes. They settled in Kolkata for trade and business purposes.  They started a lot of schools and kosher markets in India that eventually flourished exponentially. Dishes like Malfouf and Makhbooz became a part of their traditional food. In Maharashtra and Gujarat, there are a lot of Jewish families running schools in different cities.

Jewish families in Gujarat have a lot of vegetarian dishes in their traditional spread primarily because of the vegetarian food culture here. The fact that most Jewish settlers settled in the coastal regions of India like Cochin, Mumbai and Kolkata, a lot of their dishes have fish as the primary protein. 

Things to Try During Hanukkah

Imagine a platter of crispy potato fritters, a flaky fish filet, cooked in a rich, mildly-spiced coconut curry and served with some fluffy steamed rice. Follow it up with some sugar-drenched halwa, soaked in ghee and adorned with dried fruits, and voila - a meal to make your Hanukkah celebrations legendary is ready. 

Just like the dishes we mentioned above, there are a number of interesting dishes we would love for you to try. Do try a mix of both traditional and Indian Jewish recipes and you will surely understand the significance of Hanukkah in a better way.