8 Fried Foods in Philly for the Jewish Festival of Lights
The holiday season is upon us and the colder weather is setting in. In the shadows of Christmas cheer is Chanukah, the Festival of Lights.
Chanukah, or Chanukkah, or Hanukkah, even Hanuka, or however you choose to spell it, is a Jewish holiday which happens annually around the end of the Gregorian calendar that celebrates the Israelites’ defeat of their Greek oppressors. Nowadays, it is spent lighting candles, playing a spinning top game called “Dreidel”, and like most other Jewish holy days, eating different significant dishes. It is typical to eat fried foods on the holiday to celebrate the miracle of oil that should have lasted one night lasting for eight. It is tradition in my family to eat not only the traditional fried foods, but fried food in general, no matter their cultural origin.
This year, the holiday begins the evening of December 18th and ends the evening of the 26th Here’s a list of 8 fried foods–one for each night—you eat to get a head start on your Chanukah festivities, plus where to find them in Philly.
Donuts from Federal Donuts
Donuts are one of Chanukah’s two classic fried foods. They are most often eaten in the form of “sufganiyot”, literally meaning donuts in Hebrew, which are deep-fried, jelly-filled donuts topped with powdered sugar.
A well-known Philly chain for this delicious form of fried dough is Federal Donuts. During Chanukah, they usually make their specialty mini sufganiyot, topped with lemon glaze and raspberry jelly, available for purchase through online ordering. With locations scattered across the city and ever-changing monthly offerings, Federal Donuts is a spot that shouldn’t be passed over this December, or anytime during the year.
Latkes from Abe Fisher
“Latkes”, in Yiddish, or “levivot” as they are called in Hebrew, is the second traditional Chanukah dish. These potato pancakes are often made year-round at many restaurants that serve Jewish-style or Kosher food. They can be topped with applesauce, ketchup, sour cream, and more. Abe Fisher,between 17th and Sansom in Philly’s French Quarter, offers a modern take on Jewish soul food from the old country. They offer latke fries on their regular menu, as well as a part of their special Chanukah meals. The latkes are available for pickup or delivery during the Festival of Lights.
Churros from El Merkury
Churros, obviously, are not a Jewish food, as they are of Spanish origin and are found all across Latin America. Their delicious deep-fried preparation makes them a sweet and delicious fit for celebrating Chanukah. At El Merkury, you’ll find the intersection of street food and traditional Guatemalan, Salvadorian, and Honduran recipes. Their “claim-to-fame” is their Insta-worthy churros that are bent to create a foot-high loop and are stacked atop smooth soft serve ice cream, along with other toppings ranging from goats’ milk caramel to edible glitter. They also sell churros individually or in mini form by the dozen. This is another local favorite that you should frequent this Chanukah, either at Reading Terminal Market or their Chestnut street location.
Fried Chicken from Love and Honey Fried Chicken
Every culture has some sort of fried chicken as part of their cuisine. Love and Honey Fried Chicken embraces southern-style fried chicken, with a menu featuring a dish from every part of the bird, ranging from tenders to wings to sandwiches, and of course, sides and desserts. They also offer an array of dipping sauces, all made in-house, to dip whichever form of fried chicken best suits you. Post-pandemic, Love and Honey has suspended in-person dining, but don’t forget to pick up takeout or order delivery to celebrate Chanukah.
Arancini from Gran Caffe L’Aquila
Gran Caffe L’Aquila transports you to Italy, but actually, it’s more like Italy has been transported to you. The restaurant in Center City is the reconstruction of a once-famous Abbruzzese establishment that was destroyed in an earthquake nearly 15 years ago. They have a rotating specialty menu each week, and their regular dining menu is studded with a variety of dishes from almost every Italian region, including Arancini. Arancini are a Sicilian staple and the ideal appetizer. The Italian rice balls are stuffed with different fillings, coated with breadcrumbs, and then deep fried, perfectly fitting the bill as a new potential Chanukah food.
Fish and Chips from The Dandelion
While the British are not very renowned for their cuisine, fish and chips is a fan favorite among eaters of fast food globally. The Dandelion Pub is known among Philadelphians for being the go-to place for all things English. Right off Rittenhouse Square, the restaurant serves traditional dishes from all over the UK. Its fish and chips, with both components deep fried, is a fitting choice to spread holiday joy to every corner of the globe.
Fried Dumplings at Nom Wah
It’s a Jewish tradition to eat Chinese food on Christmas, so why not extend the festivities to Chanukah too? Nom Wah opened its doors in 2015 to Philadelphia’s Chinatown, adding to its established New York City location. They primarily focus on their dim sum dishes, combining “Chinese-American classics and Cantonese favorites.” They offer a few different fillings for their pan-fried dumplings, along with their beef and curry deep-fried dumpling. Nom Wah also sells frozen dumplings for at-home preparation, so you can bring the holiday celebration with you.
Carnival Treats from Coco’s Cookies and Creamery
There is nothing that screams deep-fried more than American carnival food, where oil practically leaks from your pores after eating it. Coco’s Cookies and Creamery serves a variety of sweet treats for any season. What is known to few is that besides their baked goods and ice cream (the name is a dead giveaway), they have a whole section of their menu dedicated to carnival food. From corn dogs to fried Oreos to funnel cakes topped with powdered sugar or Nutella, these are all strong and unconventional contenders to help you celebrate the Chanukah miracle, the American way.