Keep calm and Hanukkah on

By Sam Lipoff / Edited by Sheena Koh

It’s December again. But rather than spending the holiday season in chilly Boston (oh ye of bitter winds!), I am instead spending my time in sunny Singapore. Although I’ve been here for nearly a year now, it’s still a novelty to have 30 degree (Celsius!) winters. And as the holiday season grips us all in a frenzy of revelry, I can’t help but be reminded that I’ll be spending the holidays far from home again.

Living 15,000 km from home, I have to improvise a little when it comes to getting a taste of the old country in Singapore. I'm sure many Singaporeans living overseas have tried to cobble together the ingredients for a homemade laksa, made out of spaghetti perhaps, or Hokkien mee with a packet of instant noodles.

Even in today’s globalised world, there are still some things that are hard to find so far from their source. Some people might see this as an inconvenience, but I find that looking for little traces of my culture in foreign countries can be fun. Somehow, it also makes me feel closer to both my home in Boston and my adoptive one, Singapore.

30 degree summers!

In Boston, I would be celebrating Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of light that commemorates the liberation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 165BC. A group of Jewish fighters called the Maccabees fought and triumphed over the Seleucid king, Antiochus. When the Maccabees were rededicating the temple, they could only find one day's worth of oil for the holy lamp. Miraculously, the little jar of oil lasted for eight days. And so, to commemorate that miracle, Jews light candles in a special nine-branched candelabrum called a Menorah for eight nights and eat oil-based foods.

A lit Menorah.

Since Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah), is taking place now, I've been looking for traditional Hanukkah foods in Singapore. In particular, I enjoy latkes, which are potato pancakes, and little jam doughnuts called sufganiyot. Sound delicious? That’s because they are!

Jewish latkes are very similar to Swiss rösti, which can be found at places like The Rösti Farm in Capitol Plaza, Once Upon a Rösti in Tanjong Pagar, Marché (six locations), and other restaurants in Singapore. However, latkes are traditionally eaten with sour cream or applesauce, which is pretty much all it takes to turn a Swiss rösti into a Jewish latke! And if you're not a fan of sour cream, Greek yogurt works too, and is even tastier.

If you want to make latkes at home, Hansa International imports Grocholl Potato Rösti from Germany, which can be found at Fair Price Finest markets and some branches of Cold Storage. Best of all, it cooks in just fifteen minutes – super easy and delicious. Just add applesauce! And if you’re so inclined, you can even make them from scratch: check out this recipe for scallion pancake latkes with an Asian pear-and-apple sauce from Tasting Table.

The perfect Hanukkah treat!

Homemade is great, but Jewish deli Sacha & Sons at Mandarin Gallery makes the most authentic latkes in Singapore. Though latkes are offered all year round, they'll be especially popular this week. To be honest, I find their latkes a little too oily for my taste - but there are as many variants of latkes as there are Jewish grandmothers. And there are lots of Jewish grandmothers.

Next up is the sufganiyot (jam doughnut)! I haven't found sufganiyot yet in Singapore, but I find that the powdered strawberry doughnuts from Krispy Kreme are about as close as you'll get to the real thing here. And they’re just as delicious. Despite being from Boston, home of Dunkin Donuts, I like these better than their Dunkin Donuts equivalent. Singapore's own J.CO Donuts also makes some excellent doughnuts. But the very best doughnuts I've had in Singapore, even if they aren't the most authentic sufganiyot, are the lemon-curd-filled donuts at Lolla on Ann Siang Road.

You know what they say: there’s always room for dessert!

Finally, Jews also eat a lot of cheese around Hanukkah to remember the bravery of Judith. Judith was a Hebrew widow who took matters into her own hands when the Jews were besieged by the Assyrian general Holofernes. She walked into his camp on the pretence of offering him information and fed him salty cheese to get him to drink more wine. ​When he fell into a drunken stupor, she promptly beheaded him and brought his head back to the Israelites. As for the Assyrians, they found their leader's headless body in the morning and retreated in terror.

Her brie-very did not go unnoticed.

Has this whetted your appetite for Jewish food? If so, in addition to Sacha & Sons, you can find Jewish food at Awafi Restaurant on Waterloo Street, and Mediterranean/Israeli cuisine at Pita and Olives in Tanjong Pagar. Also check out Two Men Bagel House’s terrific bagels (though not a Hanukkah food, bagels have a rich Jewish history behind them) and Buyan’s excellent Russian food, which is familiar to Eastern European Jews, such as my family members and myself.

If you’re wondering why Jewish food encompasses so many different regional cuisines, that’s because Judaism is a religion and not an ethnicity. And so even though there are Jews from nearly every country on earth, there is no dominant Jewish cuisine. But there’s one thing that unites us – Hanukkah!

Chag Chanukah sameach! Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

We hope that you’ve found this guide to Hanukkah enlightening (see what we did there) and interesting! Why not check out some of these places this weekend? Find a friend with SUP today!

This is not a sponsored post.

About the writers:

Sam is the co-founder of SUP. He loves all cuisines and their fusions, and searches for tastes of home when he travels abroad and morsels from around the world when he’s at home.

Sheena is a second year literature student. She likes to read, and enjoys spearmint tea with honey.