Potato Latke = Rosti ??

ChanukahTonight (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 !


10 Responses to “Potato Latke = Rosti ??”

  1. Lani says:

    A wonderful Chanukah story for all…..may we wish you a very happy and healthy Chanukah. Singing Chanukah songs, our Chanukah train and playing dreidel with m&ms are wonderful memories!!!!

  2. Jack says:

    Nice story…I love all of the interconnections between Jewish traditions and the traditions of other countries…It is always amazing to me how much influence both Ashkanaz and Sephardic Jews had on the cultures and countries they lived in…

  3. Steve says:

    I love it. you covered all the bases, and are most definitely ready to celebrate. So a very happy and healthy Chanukah to you, and all your readers who are celebrating. And a very Merry to all who celebrate Christmas. And of course, HAPPY NEW YEAR to all.

    One more thing. My mother, grandmother and mother-in-law would certainly agree that Rösti ain’t latkes. I love Rösti, but nah, not like my mother’s latkes.

  4. Gigante says:

    Very nice Kerrin. A couple of thoughts occurred to me while reading your post. A fun little linguistic musing is that while Dreidels in America do indeed say ?Nes Gadol Hayah Sham,? it should be noted that Dreidels is Israel have the letter nun, gimmel, hey, and pey, which stand for ?Nes Gadol Hayah Po.? The translational difference? The former means, ?A great miracle happened there,? while the latter means, ?A great miracle happened here.?

    On another note, I was discussing Chanukah as the sham, (not sham) holiday that it is, that being, one which has very little religious bearing on Judaism, while still retaining divine significance to the American economy. However, what is lacks religiously, it more than makes up for in an application to present economic and resource-scarce problems. How do we get a now severely declining supply of oil to last us until some global biological epidemic takes over? If we can take the last drops of oil in our lamps and put them towards better long-term sustainable strategies, we might just make it out of the temple.

    I encourage everyone to be wise in their resource allocation, and miserly whenever possible. Chappy Chanukah!

  5. Stéphanie says:

    Happy Chanukah Kerrin (and I’m back 7 years ago when your mother had sent to you this package with one present for each day!!!!).

    Funny note – in French – : Olivier n’a plus de cuisine jaune et bleue, c’est pour ça que vous avez pris des m&m’s de cette couleur???

  6. Sarah says:

    Happy Chanukah Kerrin!

    Seattle is buried in a foot of snow for the first time in over a decade.

  7. Steve says:

    Excellent point Gigante. If only history could be applied to the present. Can you imagine, if, for example, a car that got 30 miles to the gallon could now get 8 times that, or 240 mpg? Oil crisis solved. Oh well, nice to dream.

  8. Ross says:

    We may have to consult the Talmud about what constitutes a true latke. I know people who parboil the potatoes for latkes and some who don’t use egg. Some use a little flour as a binder. And some add grated onion. Whatever, there is no better vehicle for creme fraiche and caviar.

  9. Katrin says:

    A few years later, a little addendum: most grandma recipes for rösti add milk once you’ve formed the fried potatoes into a pancake, which then binds it all together. Then once one side is browned, you flip the whole thing over, from the pan, in the air, omelette-style. Needless to say, this takes a little practice and/or a clean floor.

  10. Jamie says:

    Oh I love this post, and love seeing your Hanukkah corner! And thanks for the dreidl rules… we always played either with M & M’s or peanuts in their shells.

Leave a Reply

* Required (email address will not be published)