December's Can't-Miss Dish

Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now.  

On the plate: Latkes

Where to find it: Heading into the December holidays, many of us are wondering how to cultivate a sense of joy and meaning even though we can’t gather as we once did. Alon Munzer, the manager and one of the owners of Mamaleh’s Delicatessen in Cambridge, hopes that his restaurant’s to-go menu can help. As a father of two, he’s especially tuned in to how young people are experiencing this time. “That’s part of the reason why we wanted to open this deli,” he says. “To keep the traditions and the history alive, and have kids know what this food is.”

Notes on the nosh: Mamaleh’s Latkes—hot, golden, and crunchy-crisp—are a part of that rich tradition.

For folks who did not grow up in a Jewish household, Munzer likens latkes to hash browns. Shredded russet potatoes, minced onions, and eggs—plus a generous shake of salt and pepper—are mixed together, formed into thick patties, crisped on a griddle, then fried in oil to achieve magnificent crusts. But unlike other breakfast spuds, you don’t eat these with ketchup; sour cream and apple sauce are the traditional accompaniments.

Latkes take on special significance during Hanukkah. The holiday, which begins December 10 this year, commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem, rebuilt in the second century B.C. after the Maccabees rose up against their oppressors. As the story goes, a portion of oil, only enough to allow the temple’s menorah to burn for one night, provided flickering light for eight. “You eat food that’s fried in oil to remember the miracle of the oil that lasted eight nights,” explains Munzer.

The dish is available in three to-go formats: a trio that’s ready to eat, hot from the fryer; a package of six, ready to reheat in the oven; and—newly added for the holiday—a freshly prepared mix to fry up yourself. Go to the deli’s website, click Order Online, choose Pickup or Delivery, then navigate to one of three menus: “Breakfast & Lunch (and Dinner) All Day” for the trio; “Finish at Home Dinners” for the six-pack; and “Hanukkah Fry Menu” for the Fry at Home Latke Mix, available December 10 to 18.

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