The Real Connection Between Kugel And Hanukkah

If there is any food that is associated with Hanukkah above all others, it is ... not kugel, but latkes. Still, one type of kugel may often appear on Hanukkah tables: kugel made from potatoes. As Cooking Channel explains, there are actually numerous kinds of kugel. Some of the earliest versions of the dish appear to have been bread-based, perhaps similar to stuffing or savory bread pudding. 13thcentury German cooks may have been the first to replace the bread with noodles, and later ones added dairy products to transform kugel into the creamy dish we know today.

While noodle kugel may be the best-known type, there are also kugels made with fruit, vegetables (yes, zucchini kugel is a thing), and even a matzo kugel popular at Passover. At a Hanukkah gathering, though, you're most likely to see potato kugel. According to Minnesota's Star-Tribune, a potato kugel, particularly a pan-fried one, can be seen as a variant version of the traditional latke. If you stick to baking your kugel, it's also considerably less labor-intensive than frying up a batch of latkes. While tradition may be the main reason many Jewish households make potato kugel a part of their Hanukkah celebration, kugels also have religious significance.

Early Talmudic scholars made mention of a kugel-type dish

In the scriptures, it's stated that the Jewish Shabbat is to be "a day of delight" (via Chabad). From ancient times to the present, delicious food plays a significant role in any delightful occasion, be it Shabbat or High Holy Day. While Hanukkah is not one of those High Holy Days (the Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine explains that only Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah merit this designation), it's meant to be a joyful celebration nonetheless, and thus merits its share of delightful goodies.

Why kugel, though? As Chabad notes, early Talmudic scholars spoke of a dish called pashtida that was made with 2 layers of dough surrounding a savory filling. The 14th-century Rabbi Yaakov ben Moshe (Moelin) ha-Levi, who was called the Maharil, said the dish symbolizes the manna said to have fallen from heaven to sustain the Jews while they endured a 40-year desert exile. The crust represents the dewfall that both preceded and followed the shower of manna while the filling represents the manna itself, which was said to taste better on Shabbat. What's more, according to Jewish numerology, the word "pashtida" has the same numeric value as the name of God.

Although today's kugels may bear little resemblance to the pashtidas of yore, they've inherited their symbolic mantle. To eat kugel, for Hanukkah or another celebration, is to participate in a tradition dating back to the early days of Judaism.