The chicken or the egg? Half full or half empty? Sour cream or applesauce?
Like all great questions, this last one teems with levels of complexity, from issues of texture to flavor, and even which of the two best honors the meaning of Chanukah. The Jewish Exponent reached out to chefs, rabbis and others in the Philadelphia community to get their take on these popular latke condiments.
“Sour cream is balanced and creamy, a great pair for that crispy, salty latke,” Abe Fisher chef Yehuda Sichel said. “On the other hand, applesauce keeps it non-dairy when considering kosher restrictions. It’s sweet and tart and feels lighter than sour cream.”
Abe Fisher serves latkes with an herb sour cream, horseradish and aged cheddar.
“We serve our latkes with sour cream because they’re crispy, seasoned very well, and a dollop of sour cream ups the elegance and turns it into a composed dish,” Sichel said.
Sichel prefers sour cream, though he grew up eating latkes with applesauce. He said the richness of the sour cream goes well with the latkes.
In an unscientific Facebook survey, sour cream won out among Exponent readers. While 14 readers said they preferred sour cream, nine chose applesauce. But 20 chose both.
Shaina Robbins, manager at Schlesinger’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, prefers sour cream. Schlesinger’s gives customers the option of having their latkes with sour cream, applesauce or both.
Adath Israel Rabbi Eric Yanoff falls in the sour cream camp, saying gematria proves the superiority of sour cream.
Gematria is a tradition in which the numeric value of words and phrases are ascribed significance. The three Hebrew phrases “That which is sour,” “on a latke” and “as good as the Maccabees were” each equal 149, Yanoff said.
“In my rabbinic mind — what that means if 149 is an important number — it means that putting something sour on a liviva, on a latke, is as good as the Maccabees were,” he said.
A few Facebook respondents went outside the box with their preferences. Alternative toppings included lox, cinnamon and sugar, and the most popular substitute — horseradish.
Brenda Farkas, who moved from Manchester, England 50 years ago, said she and her family always ate latkes with red horseradish growing up.
“Try it sometime,” Farkas said. “It goes well with brisket and latkes.”
One applesauce defender is Congregation Rodelph Sholom Rabbi Eli Freedman.
He called the applesauce and sour cream debate an argument for the sake of heaven, like the famous debates between Hillel and Shammai.
“That’s what we Jews are all about, the old expression ‘two Jews, three opinions,’” Freedman said.
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