Hanukkah does not just symbolize the triumph of good over tyranny, nor is it solely a celebration of the miraculous economy of candle fuel. For many of us, Hanukkah is as much about the food. The fried food.
So just this once, let’s move past the iconic latkes and the fluffy sufganiyot. Let’s revel in our hard-fought freedom and explore the bounty of other possibilities that could represent our spiritual use of oil. Behold, eight days of fried DC.
Our first stop doesn’t take us far afield from the latke: tater tots. After all, potatoes are really meant to be fried. Some of the best-known tots in the city are those at Sticky Rice on H Street, NE. They’re served with a special dipping sauce, much like the standbys of applesauce or sour cream. Sticky Rice also serves up crunchy tempura sweet potatoes as part of a fried veggie plate.
Now, from Far East to Deep South. Here comes the hushpuppy. Nothing but fried hunks of corn batter, hushpuppies are round pieces of goodness. They’re a staple of Southern cooking, offering a much-needed slightly sweet and carb-y crunch alongside barbecue (like brisket!). Eatonville serves its version with Cajun cream.
Staying in the savory arena, we visit hipster-frequented, Jewish-owned El Chucho on 11th Street, NW, popular for its on-tap margaritas. To balance the alcohol-and-sugar-induced brain freeze, try the queso oaxaqueño frito, fried cheese straight from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Lightly breaded, soft, but not too creamy, gooey, warm and melt-in-your-mouth good.
The power of cheese doesn’t stop there, of course. Paired with slow-cooked rice, it becomes risotto. Add breadcrumbs and some hot oil, and you have fabulous arancini. If we’ve learned anything from Italian-Jewish combinations (Buffalo & Bergen, Red Hen, Dino’s Grotto), it’s that they’re nothing but delicious. So grab a bottle of your favorite juicy red (Manischewitz), and scare up a few of these hot, crunchy-outside, creamy-inside balls of cheesy rice. Find them at Taylor Gourmet, Filomena and several other Italian joints around town.
Even if we stay away from sufganiyot, we can’t stray too far. After all, the doughnut has become perhaps the new cupcake among DC food trends (and let’s not even get into the Cronut). Two notable shops, GBD and Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, pair fried chicken with unique doughnut options that go way beyond the jam-filled, like grapefruit Campari, coconut cream and Nutella.
Speaking of fried dough (when aren’t we?), plenty of other cultures pride themselves on their own versions, for example, the beignet, a French delicacy of fried yeast dough sprinkled liberally (and with equality and fraternity, if you wish) with powdered sugar. These little treats are now more commonly associated with New Orleans cooking, especially alongside a café au lait after a long night. Founding Farmers, Napoleon and Arlington’s Bayou Bakery are a few places to try the fluffy devils.
More doughnuts? Yes, please. The next one, however, is a little kinder to the diet: the vada, an Indian fried fritter. Landing more on the savory side, it’s most often crafted from lentil or potato flour. That means another thing: it’s Passover-friendly for those who eat kitniyot. Find these fritters at Woodlands Pure Vegetarian in Langley Park and other area South Indian restaurants.
It’s best to end on a sweet note, so why not churros? Originally from Spain, where they’re enjoyed for breakfast, and now found the world over, churros are long, ridged sticks of fried dough, sometimes tossed in sugar. Most importantly, they’re usually eaten dipped in chocolate—finally, gelt makes its long-awaited appearance! Seek out these heavenly goodies at Co Co Sala, Satellite Room, Barcelona, Dolcezza and several others. They’re a golden way of ending a unique eight days of Hanukkah foods, with not a single latke in sight.
Top photo: Arancini at Taylor Gourmet
Note: The establishments mentioned are not kosher.