The Best Food In Houston For Celebrating Hanukkah
Hanukkah (also known as Chanukah and the Festival of Lights) holds a special place in many Jewish hearts, with childhood memories filled with presents, dreidel games, Menorahs, gelt and of course, food. The observance starts early this year with the first sundown on December 12.
Houston is home to a large Jewish community, made up of both natives and transplants from other cities. While New York City may be the town most prevalently known for proper versions of the traditional fare, Houston has its own great options. (For those not be familiar with some of the less commonly known dishes in this article, here’s a great video on the subject.)
Day 1: The King of Sandwiches, The Reuben
Traditionally prepared with hot corn beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing, this is not a sandwich to be taken lightly. While many places around town offer a variant of this dish on their menu, “The One And Only Reuben” at Kenny & Ziggy’s original Galleria location is still the one to beat. Kenny & Ziggy’s is also running a Hanukkah to-go menu so that you don’t need to spend a lot of time in the kitchen this holiday season.
Day 2: “You Say Potato, I Say Potato”—But We All Say Knish
Kenny & Ziggy’s is the go-to place for this dish as well. While on the eastern seaboard this double whammy of carbs at most local flea markets or delis, fresh knishes are hard to come by in Houston. Thankfully, Kenny & Ziggy’s sells several versions: the homemade knish in potato, spinach or kasha and Gabila’s Coney Island Knish.
Day 3: Essential Bagels
Houstonians have two stellar standouts to get their circular carb fix this holiday season. The first, New York Bagels & Coffee Shop, is in a little nondescript strip center on Hillcroft. They make their bagels next door and serve breakfast all day with a nostalgic old school diner feel. Second up is The Hot Bagel Shop which is in a new location but has been serving up hot bagels since 1984. In addition, the shop makes bagel dogs—100-percent beef hot dogs wrapped in bagels, with or without cheese.
Day 4: Lox
Everything is better with salmon—including the bagels from Day 3. Bagels and lox tops the list of all-time favorite foods for many Jewish kids. Traditionally, this is served open faced with a generous “schmear” of plain cream cheese (or other schmear), thinly sliced red onions and capers. The bagel can be toasted or not. Some of the best lox in town is made by Local Foods. While it is called smoked salmon—and while not all smoked salmon is lox but all lox is smoked salmon—their cold-cured variety has all the salty brine flavor and none of the smoky taste. It is on their regular menu and costs $32 per pound.
Want to make your own bagel and lox—and have a reason to visit both of these bagel shops listed above? Grab a dozen plain bagels from New York Bagels & Coffee Shop, either the plain or chive schmear from The Hot Bagel Shop and finish them off with capers and chopped red onion from your neighborhood grocery store.
Day 5: The Matzah Ball
Referred to as the “Gateway Drug of Jewish food,” the matzo or matzah ball is hands down one of the most treasured Jewish foods. It is a soup dumpling ball made from a mixture of matzah meal, eggs, water and any type of fat. Matzo balls are most traditionally served during Passover, but actually make an appearance on most holidays. Density varies from light to firm. Most restaurant versions are on the medium side. Since so many people love matzo balls, it’s fun to check out the variations at every place that offers them. Top picks for these in Houston include New York Bagels and Coffee Shop, Katz’s, Kenny & Ziggy’s and Victor’s Deli. Don’t forget the chicken soup (aka Jewish Penicillin) to go with your matzo balls.
Day 6: Gefilte Fish, or “Survival of the Fittest”
People either love or hate another gelfilte fish, which is traditionally served on Passover. While what appears on the table tends to be store-bought jars from Manischewitz (the company not the wine), homemade gefilte fish can be delicious. Try this recipe from The New York Times cooking section.
Day 7: Manischewitz Wine
What are the holidays without a little wine? None is more closely associated with almost every Jewish holiday than Manischewitz. Coming in deceptively innocent flavors of Concord Grape (sweet and semi-sweet), Blackberry, Cherry, Elderberry and an Extra Heavy Malaga, this wine can pack a punch before you know it. By the way: It’s not just for drinking.
Day 8. Essential Cookies: Black-and-White and Rainbow
Legit black-and-white cookies are hard to find, but accept no substitute—except for maybe a Rainbow Cookie. These are two of the most recognizable and tasty desserts served on holidays. The black-and-white cookie has an almost cult-like following. The rainbow cookie, also known as “Kiddush cookie,” is actually Italian in heritage, but was adopted by Jewish bakeries in New York City. Technically, neither are really cookies, since they are made from batter and thinly baked layer cake, respectively. While a comparable black and white cookie worthy of the streets of New York is a hard find, the rainbow cookies at Kenny & Ziggy’s are to die for.
Honorable Mention—Belden’s Food Market: This Meyerland grocery store is always a great spot for some of your Jewish favorites and has great meat and fish counters.
Happy Hanukkah—and happy eating!