Latkes are crispy shredded potato pancakes, traditionally served for the Jewish celebrations of Hanukkah. They are usually served with sour cream or smoked fish and are not often the cause of childhood trauma, as was my case…
Latkes, or potato pancakes, were a bane of my childhood. Everyone apart from me loved them, so they were dished out frequently. Poland amongst other parts of Eastern Europe had adopted much of Jewish cuisine with gusto and made the dishes paying no mind to the original traditions. I used to wish we WERE Jewish – these traditional treats are only made once a year, for Hanukah. I had a plateful in front of me at least once a month.
The classic toppings latkes are supposed to be served with are savoury; well it’s crispy, salty fried potato and onion after all. Soured cream, smoked salmon, caviar, roasted beetroot, salt beef slices – that all makes sense and goes very well I imagine. I imagine – because for some weird reason the non-orthodox placki were served thickly sprinkled with sugar. EEEEK?! Exactly.
I don’t know where the idea of having sweets for dinner came from, I can’t think of anywhere else in the world that would do the same apart from an odd parsnip cake at dim-sum or Thanksgiving sweet potato bake. The Polish way is crêpes as a main course, pasta dressed with sweet cottage cheese topping, dumplings stuffed with blueberries; and if I ever pluck up enough courage, I’ll tell the tale of fruit soups dished out as starters.
Thus I have no affinity to those particular tendrils of my roots. Dessert on my dinner plate? No way. No problem with a bit of chocolate sauce on the chicken or sweet fruity sauce as accompaniment to duck, but the supporting role is as much as I’m willing to give.
I suspect the bleak communist-regime period is to blame: with constant shortages of almost everything we resorted to turning (cheap and made from available ingredients) desserts into mainstream sustenance. It was a huge hit with children apart from belligerent me. And I hear it still overhangs even among millennials, probably through nostalgic memories of the boiled rice with cream and cinnamon that Babcia used to cook for them on the sly.
I cooked them nostalgically too; sometimes you discover that things you used to abhor are not too horrid. I omitted the onion from the mix because I think latkes are better without, even if served with strictly savoury toppings. I also discovered the classic pairing of latkes with barely sweet apple compote which kind of hits the right taste spot. And thirdly – I served them for brunch not for dinner. There – my childhood latke demons rest in peace.