It is almost impossible to take a good picture of fried grated potatoes and onions, but we all know that no matter what it looks like, the smell of potatoes in bubbling oil is something engraved in our DNA right next to matza slathered with salted butter. These are the things we wait all year for, knowing that if we ate them all year round, our arteries would never be able to handle it.
As I was making this year's first batch of latkas, I was reminded as I always am at this time of the year, of one of the Chanukkah traditions on Kibbutz Adamit (where we spent 10 of the best year's of our lives).
30 years ago of course we all lived in small apartments, with our children in children's houses, and had all of our meals in the communal dining room. At some point during the 8 days of Chanukkah, we had a latka competition. Every family came to the chadar ochel (dining room) with their hot plates and frying pans in hand. All the ingredients—flour, eggs, potatoes, onions, seasoning and oil—were waiting for us on tables.
It is hard to remember all of the details, but you can be sure that every family had their own special way of making latkas. Was there a recipe book in sight? Not on your life. An actual measuring cup? Not likely. But the aroma of potatoes and onions, the light dusting of flour on every imaginable surface, the wide eyed children watching blobs of gooey grated potatoes and onions forming into unimaginably delicious golden latkas—well it was priceless.
I can't remember how the competition actually went. It would have been hard to find a bad latka in the place. What has really stuck with me was the experience itself.
I follow the same process today. My latkas are never from a recipe. I lay out my ingredients just like I did 30 years ago with little Aaron at my side in the chader ochel. I keep adding this and that until it feels right—and you know, it has never failed me. So the science of latkas for me is—who you are making them with—and who you are making them for. It is as simple as that.
I bet you have a latka story. I would love to hear it.