Eating sufganiyot during Hanukkah in Israel - and now Chicago

As a child living in the US, I always associated Hanukkah with one main food – potato latkes.

Yes, whenever it as Hanukkah, I always awaited the smell of hot oil frying in a pan, knowing that soon potato latkes would be fried up for all of our friends and family to enjoy.

Starting at an early age, I knew the significance of this popular dish. It wasn’t the potatoes or the applesauce and sour cream we smothered them with on our plates. No, it was the oil.

Yes, the oil used to fry potato latkes in a flying pan on the stovetop celebrates the “miracle” that takes center stage in the story of Hanukkah – that a small amount of oil burned not just for one night, but eight whole nights.

And, so, all these years later, we commemorate that feat by joyfully eating our potato latkes fried in oil.

But, in Israel, that “miracle” oil isn’t just celebrated with a feast of potato latkes. As I found out during my travels there as a college student, sufganiyot (סופגניות) are happily enjoyed in Israel for Hanukkah, too.

A first taste of sufganiyot

During college, my sister and I traveled to Israel to participate in a community service program over our winter break.

As luck would have it, we were there for Hanukkah.

I’ll never forget walking into the main dining room of our “home away from home” in Jerusalem and meeting our fellow program participants for the first time.

Each person was smiling – happy to be in Israel and even more happy to have an Israeli sufganiyot in their hands.

Sufganiyot are round, deep-fried donuts often filled with jelly and topped with powdered sugar.

That night was the first time I tasted Israeli sufganiyot – and for Hanukkah no less.

It was all surreal, delicious and perfect.

I knew I would discover new traditions, perspectives and celebrations in Israel, but I never thought it would all come together in one bite of a “donut.” And, I never thought I’d come home to Chicago with a new food to add to our holiday celebrations.

Israeli sufganiyot for Hanukkah

According to Wikipedia, sufganiyot are a culinary creation with ties to the Central and Eastern Europe where people enjoy German Berliners, Polish paczki and Russian ponchik.

As people from those regions immigrated to Israel, they brought their culinary creations with them. It was only fitting that a deep-fried, jelly-filled donut also be enjoyed in their new home of Israel.

And, there, in Israel, the sufganiyot was named – and enjoyed by all during the eight nights of Hanukkah.

Today, sufganiyot seem to be more popular than ever.

Angel Bakeries, the largest bakery in Israel, is said to fry up more than 250,000 sufganiyot a day – during all eight days of Hanukkah.

While sufganiyot are traditionally filled with jelly, today the sky’s the limit when it comes to selecting your fillings.

In Israel, you also can enjoy sufganiyot filled with chocolate cream, dulce de leche, cappuccino, vanilla cream, and arak, an anise-flavored distilled alcoholic drink that’s popular in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.

Preparing sufganiyot

Traditionally, sufganiyot were made by molding two circle of dough around a jelly filling and then frying it together in one piece.

According to Wikipedia, today, sufganiyot are more often made by frying whole balls of dough and then injecting the filling into them. shares a sufganiyot recipe for anyone interested in making the “donuts” at home for the holiday. While, offers a sufganiyot recipe that allows you to meld this one holiday favorite with other – chocolate gelt.

In a nod to the trend in Israel to add new and different fillings to sufganiyot,, offers a recipe for Peanut Butter & Jelly Sufganiyot – just perfect for a Hanukkah brunch.

Infusing a global holiday food into our Hanukkah celebration

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. To celebrate, we’ll light one candle on our menorah and place it in our window in our home in Chicago to illuminate the night.

But, you can be sure we won’t stop there.

No, tonight, we’ll also eat deep-fried, jelly filled-donuts – just as my sister and I did together in Israel many years ago. While they may be called “jelly donuts” or “paczki,” they’ll be sufganiyot to us.

And, as I eat them with my family , I’ll think of my sister, our time in Israel, and the many other people who will be enjoying the holiday treat for Hanukkah around the world.

Do you celebrate Hanukkah? Are sufganiyot a part of our holiday celebration? What is your favorite kind of sufganiyot? Have you ever made your own? Share your thoughts and traditions in the comments below.

Are you a fan of donuts? Then, you’ll also enjoy reading about the cronut (the donut-croissant hybrid) and Polish paczki.


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