Tomorrow is Christmas eve but this year it is also the beginning of Chanukkah which in Hebrew means dedication. The Festival of Lights marks the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC. Having been desecrated by the Syrians, the 165 BC rededication occurred thanks to the Maccabees. Hanukkah is a holiday I like a lot, Jesus was Jewish after all and so were all of his relatives, so this link with this Christian Holiday is great. We spent quite a few Holiday Season in Rome and partook of all the great Roman Traditions, its food and the fun that comes with it.
Jews in Rome or Italy today can be traced back to 160 BC when the first Jews arrived in Rome. They had fled historic Israel from the Syrian King Antiochus. Having arrived in Rome, this was to be known as the oldest Jewish settlements in the Western Europe.
So Rome has a Jewish community for the last 1,856 years, they have stories to tell.
The centrepiece of the Hanukkah celebrations in Rome happens at Piazza Barberini where a massive Menorah is lighted. The Menorah stands at 6 meters tall, there is another one at Piazza Bologna.
Piazza Barberini, Rome
Roman Jews have their very own cuisine which is very different from what can be found in the Jewish communities in North America, no bagels here.
A common tradition is fried food – fried in its own special way, and created to give a unique but tasty eating experience at Hanukkah time. Pollo Fritto per Chanuka is a hearty meal of chicken fried with a winning combination of ingredients. The chicken is marinated in a mix of olive oil with lemon juice, garlic and nutmeg. After the chicken has been marinated, it is then covered in flour and egg before it’s fried to make a crispy but moist dish. A good accompaniment to the fried chicken is Fritelle di Patate, which is fried mashed potato pancakes. The mash is seasoned to add that extra flavour before receiving a smattering of coated breadcrumbs to add to that fried kick. Rome is known for its Carciofi alla Giudia (artichokes), and also for Melanzane alla Giudia. This dish is fried eggplant – simple to make, and delicious to eat, the eggplant’s seeds and majority of flesh are removed before being fried in a combination of garlic and olive oil.
In keeping with the fried theme, Fritelle de Chanuka is a big hit for Italians to eat at Hanukkah. This dessert is basically fried sweet dough fritters. The dough is mixed in with raisins and anise seeds. It’s then fried and topped off with hot honey. Another favourite dessert is Torta di Ricotta, which is Ricotta Pie filled with either sour cherries and/or chocolate.
To all my Jewish Friends, Chag Sameach!