Q: A story on Hanukkah made me wonder: Is there a difference between latkes (LOT-kahs) and potato pancakes?
A: To commemorate the miracle when a temple lamp continued burning for eight days with only a single day’s worth of oil, Jews all over the world celebrate by eating things fried in oil. That might be doughnuts in some places, but in Eastern Europe and America, it usually involves latkes.
Latkes are similar to fritters and can be made from all sorts of vegetables. But potatoes are the most common. Latkes are usually made with eggs, a little milk, flour or matzo meal and baking powder.
Potato pancakes turn up in most European cultures, from Polish placki to Swedish rarakor, German kartoffelpuffer and Irish boxty. They range from smooth cakes of leftover mashed potatoes to crispy shredded potatoes that resemble hash browns.
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Dishes like that are simple, homey things that people make from what they have on hand, so it’s hard to spot differences between them. Most have egg as a binder, but not all have flour or baking powder.