Food smackdown: Latke vs. Hamantash

By Tara Kimura, CBCNews.ca

For the past 63 years, academics have debated the merits of the latke against the hamantash. (iStock)

I thought I knew a thing or two about latkes but I will admit now, my depth of understanding was shallow. My unearned confidence was based primarily on a few sublime experiences, mostly in New York diners. I prided myself on being something of a latke connoisseur – able to size up a restaurant in advance, determining whether the latke produced would be rubbery or crisp, savoury or uninspired. The most contentious latke consideration, I thought mistakenly, revolved around the sour cream versus applesauce side options.

Little did I know that the humble latke has been the subject of weighty discussion dating back to 1946 in the University of Chicago's latke–hamantash debates. Academics, essayists and philosophers have gathered annually to engage in tongue-in-cheek deliberations, comparing the latke and the hamantash – a pastry consumed during Purim.

At this year's Nov. 24 event, held 150 years after the publication of Charles Darwin's on the Origin of Species, professors considered how the theory of evolution applied to the latke-hamatash debate. But according to the Chicago Maroon, the university's student paper, student protesters stole the spotlight with calls for a wider debate of different Jewish foods. The story included a photo of one such demonstrator carrying a cheeky sign that read, "FREE YOUR MIND AND YOUR TUCHUS WILL FOLLOW!!!".

Some of the debates have been catalogued in The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate and include such deliberations as Stuart Tave's "Jane Austen's Love and Latkes", Shalom Schwartz's "Hamantash, Bagel, or Latke: Who Has the Power?", as well as John D. Lantos' "The Bioethical Implications of the Latke-Hamantash Debate; or, Small Fry, Deep Fry, in Your Eye, Northrop Frye."

Interested foodies can also watch archived debates on YouTube, including this witty argument made by Gary Tubb, a professor at the University of Chicago.

Who knew the mighty potato pancake could inspire such fierce and funny debate?

With Hannukah upon us, I asked Marcy Goldman about the traditional holiday food.

"The Jewish people's sacred temple had been all but destroyed and the symbolic oil, used for their ceremonial menorah (eight branched) was defiled, sullied by their oppressors," she explains. "It takes eight days to manufacture new, fresh oil but only a vial of oil - enough for one day - was found. Miraculously - it lasted for eight days - allowing enough time for fresh oil to be manufactured."

"The Hannukah miracle was in the oil lasting - and this is also why Hannukah is called the festival of 'light' - light from the darkness. Now we use oil-based foods like latkes and Hanukkah donuts - all fried in oil - as foods to remind of this oil miracle so long ago."

Over on betterbaking.com, Goldman shares recipe for the New Way Famous Potato Latkes – her secret: parboiling the potatoes before grating and frying them. She promises they fry up quickly and are lighter than traditionally prepared latkes.