Potato Latke = Rosti ??
Tonight (Sunday, December 21st) is the first night of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. As is often the case in Jewish history, a miracle happened (the underdog Jewish forces defeated a mighty army), and so today we remember the event and celebrate – with symbolic foods of course. Chanukah (also “correctly” spelled Hannukah and Hanukkah due to linguistic differences between English and Hebrew) reminds us of the oil that burned for eight days instead of one, and kept the Holy Temple in Israel lit after the Jews defeated the Syrian Greeks. We therefore light candles on a menorah for eight nights, starting with one candle on the first night, and adding one more each night. On the eighth and final night of Chanukah, all candles are lit.
Chanukah customs involve eating foods fried in oil, especially sufganiot, deep-fried, jelly filled doughnuts. And no holiday table would be complete without latkes (potato pancakes). Here in Zürich, it seems like it’s Chanukah on the table every day, lunch and dinner, in every Swiss restaurant you go. After all, many consider the national dish to be Rösti, which is a side dish of fried grated potatoes. So does potato latke = Rösti ?
While they may look awfully similar, Rösti and latkes are not really one and the same. They are both made with potatoes that are grated and then fried. Yet the key difference is that latkes are made with eggs, while Rösti has no egg or other binding ingredient. It’s really just fried shredded potatoes. That said, you may see additional ingredients depending on the region in Switzerland, like bacon, onions, cheese or fresh herbs. Another difference is in the preparation of the potatoes. For Rösti, the potatoes are usually par-boiled before they are grated and fried, whereas latkes use raw potatoes. Lastly, latkes are shaped into small individual cakes, while Rösti here is usually served as one large round cake, taking the shape of the frying pan in which it was made. This month’s issue of Bon Appétit has a recipe for Rösti-style Potato Latkes with Rosemary and Brown Butter Applesauce. What a perfect combination for my Chanukah celebration in Switzerland!
Eating potato latkes, lighting the menorah, handing out Chanukah gelt (small chocolate coins, gelt meaning money in Yiddish), singing songs… and playing dreidel, these are my holiday traditions. A dreidel is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters that are an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, meaning “a great miracle happened there.” Spin the dreidel and try to win as much chocolate gelt as possible – or pennies or whatever “currency” you are playing with. In my family, it has always been M&M’s. All players start with the same amount of gelt at the beginning, and each takes a turn spinning the top until one person has won all of the gelt. Here’s what the letters mean:
Nun means nothing, so nothing for you, and the next player spins.
Gimel means all, so you take all. (All players then put 1 piece of gelt in the middle to continue.)
Hey means half, so you take half.
Shin means put in, so you put 1 piece of your gelt into the middle.
With popular wooden toy stores selling spinning tops in all sizes, Rösti coming out of kitchens all over Zürich, and chocolate coins - well chocolate just about everywhere – I am thinking that this city is very Chanukah friendly. Now I’ll just have to see if I can talk the Swiss into serving their Rösti with apple sauce !
Viel Glück to me… and Happy Chanukah to all !