It's hard to imagine a Hanukkah without latkes, the crispy fritters of shredded potatoes that symbolize an everlasting light.
Jews of all stripes eat fried foods during the December holiday to remember the oil that lit the holy candle for eight days instead of one. For most American Ashkenazi Jews, that means a fried potato pancake. But Jews that draw their heritage from Spain do things a little differently. They snack on a sweet dessert called the bunuelo.
You may have eaten this sweet crunchy disk at a local Mexican restaurant, or sampled one that was made at a southside panadería. It looks kind of like a flat sopapilla; but it's basically a tortilla dusted with sugar and cinnamon and fried in oil.
Around here bunuelos are a classic Mexican dessert, but they were originally eaten by Sephardic Jews during Hanukkah, writes the New York Times. (Unlike Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews have roots in Spain, North Africa and the Middle East.) The word bunuelo comes from the Spanish word for fritter.
Spanish bunuelos, or bimuelos, are more of a fried doughnut ball, and can be flavored with orange blossom water and fried in grapeseed oil. But around Tucson, they're flat like a golden frisbee. They're a little hard to find as many Tucson bakeries don't actually stock them, but they do carry the bunuelos over at El Triunfo Bakery at 6348 S. Nogales Hwy.
Employee Irma Perez says that the fried tortillas are more popular around Christmastime, when customers buy them to bring to parties or share with family. El Triunfo prepares a special syrup for their bunuelos made from boiled-down piloncillo brown sugar, water and clove. The sugar-dusted bunuelos sell for $6 a bag, Fridays through Sundays.
El Sur at 5602 E. 22nd St. also has bunuelos on the menu, but theirs are prepared more like nachos, chopped up and drizzled with caramel sauce. You might wanna put those on your to-do list, but I really loved the ones at La Botana at 3200 N. First Ave. This midtown restaurant makes its bunuelos fresh to order and serves them in a decorative skillet with a fluff of whipped cream.
Flour tortillas are fried in hot oil and sprinkled with a generous helping of sugar and cinnamon. When the tortilla hits the oil it puffs up and becomes firm, so you rip off each crackly bite, getting little bits of sugar all over your hands. It was a fitting way to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah in Tucson. There were no menorahs around, so we ate them to the light of a neon lamp that was in the shape of a Pacifico beer bottle. If only mom was here!