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Food smackdown: Latke vs. Hamantash

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By Tara Kimura, CBCNews.ca

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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.

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Comments

Liam

Edmonton

Loved this post. And loved the tip about parboiling the potatoes... my 'secret tip' (which everybody already knows, annoyingly) is to squeeze the potatoes and onions super dry before making the batter. I'm going to try the parboiling tip tonight, I think.

I can definitely see the sour cream vs. applesauce debate going on about a thousand years though. It already seems that way with my friends...

Posted December 15, 2009 04:25 PM

Caitlin

Winnipeg

I go for sour cream AND applesauce! Why argue?

Posted December 17, 2009 09:24 AM

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About the blog

From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.

About the writers

Amber Hildebrandt Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.

Andrea Chiu Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.

Tara Kimura Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.

Andree Lau Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).

Jessica Wong Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.

Kevin Yarr Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.

Elizabeth Bridge Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.

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Holiday round-up
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Food smackdown: Latke vs. Hamantash
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Taking in the heat of celeb kitchens
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Melon heads
Friday, November 27, 2009
Labneh and generosity in the Middle East
Friday, November 20, 2009
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