Food and food traditions have always played a significant role in many Jewish holidays and celebrations, and the eight days of Hanukkah are no exception. This year, Hanukkah begins at sunset on Thursday, December 10, and ends Friday, December 18. Atlanta-based Jewish educator and food and culture writer Robbie Medwed delves into the origins behind the fried foods served during Hanukkah, which includes where to find kosher versions of the delicious, deep-fried jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot in Atlanta.
The eight days of Hanukkah commemorate the victory of the Maccabees, a small group of Jewish rebels who fought (and won) against the Greek rulers in 164 B.C.E. after they conquered the land of Israel, outlawed all Jewish practices, and desecrated the holy Temple in Jerusalem.
“What Hanukkah celebrates, at its core, is the victory of the few over the many,” rabbi Ari Kaiman of Atlanta’s Congregation Shearith Israel in Morningside explains. “The Jews beat the Greeks and restored the Temple, and when they did, they found just enough oil to light the menorah for one day, but it lasted for eight.”
Jews light their own menorahs — known in Hebrew as a Hanukkiyah or Hanukkah menorah — each night of the holiday in remembrance of the light lasting for eight days. “In honor of the miracle,” Kaiman adds, “we eat foods cooked in oil.”
Most Americans are familiar with the latke (or potato pancake,) which was brought here by the Ashkenazi Jews of eastern Europe. Made with grated potato, onions, and spices and then fried in oil, the latke has since crossed over into the mainstream and can be found in kosher and non-kosher restaurants throughout the country. But there’s also one other familiar fried treat featured on the table during Hanukkah: doughnuts.
Jewish doughnut season
In the early 1920s, when immigration to the land of Israel was reaching its peak, immigrant Jews wanted to find a new food with which to honor Hanukkah. Enter the sufganiyah, the jelly-filled doughnut. Sufganiyah (sufganiyot; plural) takes inspiration from North African Jews who were making sfinge — a fried dough dipped in orange honey syrup — and savory-filled doughnuts made by eastern European Jews. As a nod to their former oppressors, this new doughnut was named sufganiyah, which traces its roots back to the Greek word sufgan meaning “fried” or “spongy.”
During Hanukkah, as well as in the weeks leading up to the holiday, sufganiyot can be found in coffee shops and bakeries throughout Israel. Each year sees some intricately decorated doughnuts and new fillings ranging from dulce de leche and Nutella to chocolate and tropical fruit.
Where to find sufganiyot in Atlanta
Over the past decade, sufganiyot have gained in popularity in the United States, and can now be found regularly in bakeries and shops during Hanukkah. However, finding certified kosher sufganiyot in Atlanta can be tricky, as there are only a few kosher restaurants and bakeries around town. Contrary to popular belief, kosher food isn’t “blessed by a rabbi.” For food to be certified kosher, it has to be supervised by a qualified mashgiach or kashrut (kosher) supervisor during every step of its preparation.
“What the certified kosher symbol means, at its base, is that the food item was supervised in its preparation,” explains Meredith Schwartz, a former kosher personal chef in Atlanta. “A trustworthy, knowledgeable person watched to make sure that every rule was followed while food was being prepared, whether it was in a restaurant or in a production facility.”
“They’re the person who guarantees there were no shortcuts taken along the way, that there was no mixing of meat and dairy, and certainly no pork or shellfish,” she adds. “It’s not whether someone blessed it or that it’s inherently healthier, it’s just supervised from start to finish.”
While sufganiyot are found at plenty of non-kosher establishments around metro Atlanta, like Alon’s Bakery, Goldberg’s Fine Foods, Aziza, Revolution Doughnuts, and The General Muir, try one of these six spots for some of Atlanta’s best kosher-certified sufganiyot during Hanukkah this year.
2211 Savoy Drive, Atlanta
Located in a nondescript strip mall beside I-285 on the edge of Chamblee, Tip Top Kosher Market looks more like a convenience store than a grocery and restaurant. The market offers a huge selection of Israeli products and fresh pastries. Tip Top’s traditional sufganiyot are flown in straight from Israel and should be ordered a day or two in advance. While picking up that sufganiyot order, grab a few other items, like Israeli beer and snack foods, as well as salads and some of Tip Top’s incredible dairy products. Masks required.
Sublime Doughnuts (Toco Hills location)
2566 Briarcliff Road NE, Atlanta
Sublime’s Toco Hills location is the only certified kosher outpost of the Atlanta doughnut shop. Offerings here are decidedly untraditional, but that’s part of what makes these doughnuts so popular. Try the butter toffee and the dulce de leche to bring a little pizazz to Hanukkah. Make sure to call at least 24 hours in advance and order enough alphabet-shaped doughnuts to spell out the more than ten different ways to translate the holiday’s name to English. Masks required.
2153 Briarcliff Road NE, Atlanta
Kosher Gourmet is one of Atlanta’s longest running kosher butchers known for preparing its kosher-certified meats to order. Find fresh and frozen cuts of beef, lamb, chicken, and more here, in addition to kosher wine and kosher staple ingredients. The shop also features a deli counter with freshly made, piled-high sandwiches and traditional sufganiyot during Hanukkah. This year Kosher Gourmet is offering individually-packaged, freshly-made sufganiyot in flavors like classic jelly, cookies and cream, s’mores, and rainbow berry. All of the doughnuts are pareve (dairy-free) and sold in COVID-safe packaging. Order in advance or drop by to see what’s available. Masks required.
2887 North Druid Hills Road NE, Atlanta
When Atlanta’s kosher cooks need hard-to-find, kosher ingredients, they often head to the Spicy Peach in the Toco Hill shopping center. This year, sufganiyot are available for pick-up in packs of eight. However, supplies are limited. The Spicy Peach also carries frozen potato latkes, pasta in fun Hanukkah shapes, plenty of gelt (chocolate coins), and a chocolate-covered marshmallow treat called krembo, which is very popular in Israel. Don’t skip the gummy candies here, and be sure to try the Israeli sweet and sour Doritos, too. Masks required.
5065 High Point Road, Sandy Springs
Once just a kosher catering business, EB’s Ghost Kitchen expanded its offerings at the start of the pandemic to include freshly prepared takeout meals. In addition to regular, weekly Shabbat meals with traditional and modern dishes like Moroccan salmon or sous vide London broil, EB’s also features sandwiches on Tuesdays and “wholesome” meals on Wednesdays. Order cookies and cream or pretzel caramel sufganiyot online to complement some pastrami egg rolls or a steak sandwich. Pick-up locations in Sandy Springs and Toco Hills. Sufganiyot are only available December 8 - 17.
295 Ponce De Leon Ave NE, Atlanta (also Riverdale, Woodstock, Buford, Cobb Pkwy)
Atlanta’s Ponce location on the edge of Midtown is the only in-town, kosher-certified Krispy Kreme for the North Carolina-based doughnut brand. The Riverdale, Woodstock, Buford, and Cobb Parkway shops are also certified kosher locations. These Krispy Kremes regularly feature the traditional, jelly-filled sufganiyot called “glazed raspberry filled” for purchase. For large orders, make sure to order in advance. Masks required.
Robbie Medwed is an Atlanta-based educator and food and culture writer who teaches Jewish Bible, law, and history at the Epstein School in Sandy Springs. Medwed has a master’s degree in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, where he lived for two years. His food writing has appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, the Jewish Food Experience, Grok Nation, and Eater Atlanta. He also runs cocktail website, KosherCocktail.com.