Many modern-day Jewish-Latinos are descended from families who fled Europe to evade persecution for their religious practices and beliefs, largely of Sephardic and Ashkenazi origin. While many of their traditions were lost or suppressed for fear of attracting danger in their new homelands across the sea, Jews thrive today in cities across Latin America. One of the most compelling traditions for Jewish and non-Jewish Latinos is the culinary one, where traditional Jewish recipes have taken on Latin American sensibilities, and vice versa.
If you’re lucky enough to be celebrating your holidays in one of these four cities, make sure to observe Hanukkah by making a pitstop at one of these Jewish-Latino restaurants.
Southern Florida is home to a solid community of Latino Jews from all over Latin America, approximately 13,000 people strong according to the Jewish Federation of Broward County, including from Cuba and Mexico. “Some of those who attend our events are new arrivals from South America,” Manny Synalovski, the chair of the federation’s Latin Initiative, told the Miami Sun-Sentinel in an interview. “Others have been living in South Florida for 20-25 years.”
Paying homage to the culinary melting pot that is the Miami food scene, Zak Stern of the eponymous Zak the Baker cafe in Wynwood is serving up a drool-worthy treat over Hanukkah: churros with strawberry sauce, reminiscent of the flavors of sufganiyot, a jam-filled donut served through the eight-day festival. “In Israel, sufganiyot is the dessert of Hanukkah,” Stern recently told the New York Times. “Now, churros will become an alternative.” He said
Buenos Aires is a hub of Latino Jews, with the largest Jewish population in all of Latin America. The city also holds the seventh-largest Jewish population in the entire world and has the only kosher McDonald’s outside of Israel. But that’s not where you should eat to observe a memorable Hanukkah-inspired meal.
The place to go is Mishiguene, a fine dining establishment headed by Tomás Kalika, where Jewish-inspired dishes get the Argentinian treatment — including pastrami, prepared over a proper Argentinian parrilla. Every Friday night, the establishment hosts a shabbat dinner, complete with a klezmer band. Mishiguene has been named one of the top 50 best restaurants in Latin America over the past couple of years, with Chef Kalika taking home the Chefs’ Choice Award this year.
Frida Kahlo’s father may not actually have been Jewish, despite her claims that he was of Hungarian-Jewish descent, but Mexico is home to a thriving community of approximately 40,000 Jewish people, most of home live in Mexico City. Mexico City’s current mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, the first female ever to hold mayoral office, happens to be Jewish.
In operation since 1962, Klein’s is a Mexican-Jewish establishment that tops its pastrami tortas with avocado, its bagels with salsa, and its tacos with kosher salami. It’s comfort food served up in a retro deli setting that pays homage to the cultural exchange between American Jewish cuisine and Mexican flavors.
This Brazilian metropolis is where most of the country’s 120,000 Jews are situated, where in recent years the demographic has grown as people are rediscovering their roots; in the past, many of the Portuguese and Spanish who had immigrated to Brazil had been forced to renounce their Jewish faith in favor of Catholicism. Today, Bnei Anusim communities are helping Brazilians to reclaim their Judaism.
In São Paulo, stop through Kasher da Barros for a hearty plate of pork-free feijoada, Brazil’s national dish adapted for Kosher dietary restrictions. Finish your meal with a slice of banana strudel, a tropical twist on a European classic pastry. The only thing is that Kasher da Barros is closed for most of Hanukkah, shuttered from Christmas through New Year’s Day, so plan accordingly.