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myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

The Year of the Potato Pancake?

Latke!

Latke!

MyMEGusta had planned a delicious journey into the Land of the Latke this week. Then we found that latkes were ubiquitous. Every publication and blog around seemed to be on the same wave length, so the idea got set aside.

But, on reading, most are focused on recipes, traditional, updated, the usual melange, just like every November the world has a few too many “new” ways to make The Best Turkey Ever.

So, in a little salute to Hanukkah, here’s myMEGusta’s look at these nice, crispy treats (not to be confused with Rice Krispie Treats).

We often think of latkes in association with the upcoming Jewish Holiday, the Festival of Lights, beginning this year at sundown, December 8.

Around 167 BC, Jerusalem was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers. A group called the Maccabees eventually succeeded in repelling them, but then was left the task of rededicating the Temple, which had been subject to sacrilege by the invaders. This rite required the burning of oil for eight days, but there was only a tiny amount available, enough for one day. But the oil lasted for the full eight days, hence the traditions of lighting the Menorah for eight days in remembrance of this miracle. Eating fried foods also became part of the tradition.

Having settled throughout Northern Europe, the Ashkenazi Jews made a tradition of enjoying latkes, potato pancakes, as a favorite food for this joyous holiday.

Root Vegetable Latke at 3 Axes, Vienna

Root Vegetable Latke at 3 Axes, Vienna

But, potato pancakes are a widely popular throughout that region, regardless of religious affiliation.

Just last December, I enjoyed a daily special of exceptional grated vegetable/potato pancakes at Vienna’s 3 Axes Restaurant, famous for its authenticity, where to get really good, old-fashioned Viennese dishes.

And, in a more hands on experience with potato pancakes as made in Poland, the wonderful Babi (a great expert in Polish cuisine) let me work with her and see how traditional “placki ziemiakowe”  or simply, “placki,” are made by hand in that Northern European country.  These came in two forms: single layed potato pancakes, and doubles with the potato dough sandwiching cooked cabbage, and are poached rather than fried (although many Polish potato pancakes are). Not to miss out on any decadence, these are served doused with browned butter.

Irish Boxty

Irish Boxty

Another example of this delicacy is found in Ireland, not what we normally think of as Northern Europe, but it is in the North and part of Europe, where potatoes and cabbage are staples.  These are called boxty, and look a lot like latkes to me.

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5 thoughts on “The Year of the Potato Pancake?

  1. Dr. Caren Glickson on said:
  2. Mary Ellen:
    Does Babi still grate the potato by hand – a very time consuming task – as my mother and grandmothers always did?

  3. Yes! Babi does the whole process by hand, and even has a specially made wooden work table for it!

  4. Good story. Grated potatoes oxidize (get brown rapidly.) Does Babi add something to prevent that?

  5. janett edelberg on said:

    HI — loved this post!!

    I was in Australia with my brother for Chanukah this year. Made a Chanukah party for him, my nephew and about 20 friends. What a hoot to make the latkes on the bar-b-que grill.

    janett

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