Different nations have inspired different takes on traditional Hanukkah foods. These differences can be seen in how the Jews celebrate Hanukkah, where the foods of the homeland become intertwined with regional flavors.
Israel and other Middle Eastern countries
From Israel, all tradition comes. Therefore, no matter how far they range or where they settle, Jews can expect their holiday foods to be partially inspired by the flavors available to the Middle East. This includes flavors like curry, black pepper, nutmeg and thyme and ingredients like matzo, potatoes, onions, olive oil and rice. From these flavors, we get dishes like matzo ball soup and sufganiyot (Israeli fried doughnuts).
However, there's another Jewish culinary tradition grounded in the Middle East. These dishes are seen less often at a U.S. Jew's table and include baba ghanoush, falafel, baklava, couscous and tabbouleh. Still, they are perfectly acceptable to eat at a Jewish table and dishes like falafel and loukoumades (Mediterranean honey puffs) are at home at any Hanukkah feast.
For many years, Germany was the home-away-from-home for a large number of Jewish communities. Because of this, German ingredients, especially caraway seeds, apple dishes, and egg noodles are now seen as indispensable parts of Jewish cuisine.
It's believed that dishes like latkes (potato pancakes), kugel (potato casserole) and kreplach (dumplings) are all German in origin.
Eastern European Jews originally arrived in Germany before moving east toward Poland, Hungry and eventually Russia. Still, Eastern Europe fostered large communities of Jewish people who brought their food traditions with them.
Therefore, the dishes enjoyed by Eastern European Jews have a distinctly German feel but with local innovations. The most popular Hanukkah dish from Eastern Europe is the blintz, but the region has also given us Jewish dishes like kishke (boiled sausage), bagels and pastrami. Brisket is also thought to have originated here and has migrated to different regions.
Italian food has always featured a bounty of nature's produce: eggplant, fennel, tomatoes (after Christopher Columbus) and garlic. Jews who migrated to the area were more than happy to begin adding these ingredients to their dishes. In fact, Italian Jews ate eggplant and fennel so much, the two ingredients became associated with them. To this day, dishes like fried eggplant grace Italian Hanukkah tables.
Hanukkah is not only the celebration of fried foods, but also cheese, due to a particular clever Jewish woman who tricked an entire army with nothing but salty cheese and wine. When it comes to salty cheese and wine, there's perhaps no better expert than the Spanish. Because of this, while Spanish Jews continue to eat fried foods, they also enjoy a healthy bounty of locally produced salty cheeses and wines.
While in many cases, the U.S. is a melting pot of many different cuisines, peoples and nationalities, when it comes to Jewish cuisine, the U.S. only gets half the story. When it comes to what Jews eat in the U.S., dishes from European countries are the most heavily represented: bagels and lox, latkes, blintzes, and pastrami, etc.
International Jewish recipes
Sephardic Hanukkah foods
A nontraditional Hanukkah menu
Three nontraditional latkes