Giving up on Latkes

My relatives would probably be horrified at the idea of eating fried chicken at Hanukkah, but when you live in a wasteland of sorts, you make do.
fried chicken

Greetings from Chicago! It’s the end of the world here. Our newspapers are crumbling, our governor has gone loco, and to top it off, I can’t find a decent latke to save my life.

Unfortunately, this latter point is nothing new. When it comes to Jewish food, Chicago is barren. A wasteland. A bona fide shanda. This fact haunts me every morning, when I wake up and realize for the 1,362nd time that there’s nowhere in the nation’s third largest city to get a good bagel. But it stings especially hard around the holidays. Looking for a Passover honey cake, or some decent rugelach? Head to the suburbs, bubbala. Or New York. (Even something as simple as Hanukkah gelt can be impossible to find. Last year I got in the car to look for some; the search took four hours.)

And the pursuit of latkes is particularly tricky because potato pancakes are all over this town. In fact, this time of year they’re served under a gigantic Christmas tree at the Christkindlmarket. But surely you’ll agree with me that a German potato pancake served at a Christmas festival does not a Hanukkah latke make.

So this year, I’m giving up on latkes altogether. It’s not the potato that’s important anyway. It’s the oil. And while Jews frying potatoes may be rare in this town, there is at least one Jew frying chicken: Ina Pinkney. And she turns out, somewhat inexplicably, some of the best fried chicken in the city, its light, crispy coating flaking apart to reveal a juicy bird underneath. Besides, she can kvetch with the best of them, so it’s like being served by a Jewish grandmother. Of course, my Jewish grandmother probably would have plotzed at the idea of fried chicken at Hanukkah. Or maybe not. After all, she lived through hard economic times, too—so she’d probably understand that when it’s Hanukkah, and the world seems to be coming to an end, you make do.

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