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Food Porn: A lotta latkes

"It's a Chanukah miracle!"

"It's a Chanukah miracle!"

Happy Chanukah, New Orleans! For those who celebrate, this time of year is known for eight miraculous nights of candlelight, family-time, presents ("No, I really DID need new socks, Mom...thanks!"), increasingly intense games of dreidl, and, of course, food.  The only Jewish holiday that does not essentially focus around food one way or another is Yom Kippur, and even then, breaking the fast on that holiday is a crucial component to the atonement of ones sins.  Or at least it feels that way when you get a bagel with whitefish salad in your belly after 24 hours contemplating your sins. It's really the best bagel of the year, in my opinion.

There are a number of traditional Chanukah dishes (Did you know that Jews in Venice traditionally eat spinach on this holiday?), though the resounding favorite of Jews the world round is latkes.

Oh, my, latkes.  Could I love you any more? I scarcely believe it to be possible. In the pantheon of fried potatoes, I find latkes the clear winner, despite my love of french fries.  And don't even think of calling latkes "hash browns." You don't want that Old Testament wrath on you, or possibly the evil eye. Latkes are latkes, hash browns are hash browns. QED.

So, you ask, what makes latkes so special? First, you really only eat them during this time of year. There's nothing in Jewish scripture that prevents one from enjoying latkes for Passover or Purim or Simchat Torah or other holidays, but really, they should be reserved for Chanukah. This tradition exists for a couple of reasons: first, the oil in which one fries the potatoes is a reminder of the oil in the menorah, that sacred, miraculous oil that lasted for eight nights (we Jews love ascribing religious symbolism to food). Secondly, I feel that the year-long wait for latke-time makes them that much better. Imagine if you were only supposed to eat hamburgers or pizza or jambalaya for a specific eight days out of the year...how much better would they taste when that time came around?  That said, as the song goes, "The waiting is the hardest part."

Another thing that makes latkes such a wonderful treat is that they are not just fried potatoes (amazing in their own right, if executed properly), but they also exist as a topping delivery system.  Outside of oysters or crawfish ettouffee or bacon and other treyf, you can pretty much throw anything your heart desires on top of a latke and make them still more enjoyable.  The traditional parings, as many know, are apple sauce or sour cream.  NOTE: these two should never be combined on the same latke, or even touching each other on the plate. I don't know who out there does this, but they are paving a clear path for themselves to Gehenna, the land of the wicked.  It's a shonda. A scandal! Never do this.

Personally, I'm a sour cream man, myself. Or, to be more specific, I'm a creme fraische and caviar man. It's the ultimate way to dress up a humble latke, in my opinion.  Once you've topped your fried potato cake with air-light creme and a healthy dollop of sturgeon roe, salmon eggs, or even that crazy green flying fish wasabi roe you find in sushi restaurants, you'll never want to go back.  Who wants a blini when you can have your caviar and fixins on a crispy, lovingly fried bed of shredded potatoes?  And how, in G-d's holy name, can applesauce compete with that?

This Chanukah, I urge you to go forth and get crazy with your latkes.  Slather them in a rich garlicky aioli, or maybe even a spicy, homemade Dijon mustard.  Why not?  Just don't mix that sour cream with applesauce.  This is a holy time of year, after all.


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.