Recipes and Memories from Hanukkah in India
An Indian Jew shares her Hanukkah traditions
I grew up in the Bene Israel Jewish community in Mumbai and still live there. During Hanukkah, we have a busy schedule, going to each other’s houses to light the Hanukkah candles. We gather to celebrate with family and friends and in our synagogues. I always celebrate my first night with the candle lighting in Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue at Kala Ghoda and the eighth and last day—the finale—is at the Shaare Rason Synagogue Khadak.
During Hanukkah, Indian Jews traditionally light an oil lamp instead of a candle.
The late Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg z”l, who lost his life during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008, started the tradition of lighting the spiritual and festive lights of Hanukkah in 2003 at the Gateway of India, close to the Taj Mahal Hotel. Over the past decade, Chabad Mumbai has continued the tradition of lighting the menorah at Gateway of India with a wish to spread light and love.
I’m always seeing miracles happening in my life on a daily basis. When Hanukkah time comes around my world truly starts lighting up with a special spiritual feeling of me actually living in a miracle.
Our ancestors, Bene Israel Jews, settled in Konkan after being shipwrecked off the coast. The Jews were welcomed warmly and have lived here for generations. India is the only country where anti-Semitism never became a broad issue, where Jews have always prospered and lived as an integral part of society. Both my parents served in the government. I grew up with Hindus and Muslims. I have fond memories from my childhood. We all had a good time studying and playing together without any regard for caste or creed.
And so it is no surprise that Bene Israel cuisine has drawn much influence on Maharashtra and Konkan culinary styles. For Hanukkah, it is customary to have something fried like onion fritters, so-called kanda bhaji or batata bhaji, but my mother would always make something more healthy like sweet halwa or sweet rice and then fry potatoes with black pepper in a little oil in order to remember the miracle of Hanukkah.
Recipe for Kanda Bhaji
- Approximately two medium onions
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro
- 1¼ cup chickpea flour
- ½ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Pinch of chili powder
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Slice onions into smallish pieces.
- Chop cilantro add rest of ingredients for batter and mix together.
Heat oil in deep pot.
- Shape batter into rounds like falafel balls. The batter will be a little loose.
- Drop balls of batter into the oil.
- Turn over to make sure golden brown and crisp on both sides.
- Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
- Serve warm as appetizer or snack.
Recipe for Sweet Rice
- 2 cups uncooked white rice preferably Indian Basmati
- 5 cups water
- 5 pods whole cardamoms
- 4 to 6 tablespoons Ghee/oil
- 4 cups white sugar
- 1 tablespoon raisins
- 1 tablespoon chopped cashew nuts
- pinch of Saffron for color
- Clean/Wash and place the rice in a bowl with water to cover and soak one hour.
- Take a pan or pot add Ghee /vegetable oil add cardamom cinnamons, cloves, raisins, and dry fruits and fry on low heat for a minute or so.
- Add boiling water with saffron rice and sugar.
- Cover and simmer until tender, 10 minutes.
- Serve warm.