Hey grocery stores: There’s no matzo in Hanukkah!


How hard would it be to ask someone before stocking the shelves, “So, what goes with Hanukkah anyway?”

Risa Nye, perhaps best known to Berkeleyside Nosh readers as Ms Barstool, doesn’t spend all her time sipping cocktails in the wee hours. She also, like the rest of us, goes grocery shopping. And there’s one aspect of the preparation undertaken by some local stores towards Hanukkah that really, really gets her goat. Read on.

A letter to the manager of my local  grocery store:

Dear person in charge of the all-purpose Jewish food display I saw in your store on Nov. 19, just over a week before Hanukkah starts:

Depending on what part of the world you come from, there are a variety of traditional foods associated with Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights. The story of this holiday includes the miracle of a small amount of oil that kept a menorah burning for eight nights. (There is much more to this story, but I’m just summing up the part that has to do with latkes and oil.)

One of the traditional foods people prepare at Hanukkah is the latke, or potato pancake. Personally, I detest the way my house smells after latkes are made. The odor of fried onion and potato hangs around for almost the full eight days. Most years, I don’t make them — so family members have figured out ways to bake them or bring them all ready to heat up from Trader Joe’s. That’s fine with me. This holiday is not about how I feel regarding fried potato pancakes; it’s about the miracle in the Temple involving one night’s worth of oil that lasted for eight days.

At my house, if we remember in time, we get out the menorah and start lighting candles on the first night of Hanukkah. The cheapo candles drip like a son of a bitch and you can’t ever get red wax off a white tablecloth. Believe me, I’ve tried. Also the cheap candles drip down the menorah and you end up having to chip it off with a knife when it’s time to put the menorah back in the box with the Christmas ornaments. Again, my personal story. Others may have a different experience.

Now, on to the shelves I saw today.

Starting at the top, you have bags of Hanukkah gelt. Good for you. These chocolate coins are like poker chips you can  use when you play gambling games with your dreidel. Fun to peel off those gold wrappers, but not very good chocolate inside usually. I often wonder if that’s on purpose.

I’m not sure what’s in the “Chanukah Surprise” boxes, but they do appear to be dreidel-shaped. If the rules of the game are printed on them, that would be helpful. It’s kind of complicated.

Next up we have boxes of Chanukah candles.So far so good, eh? I can’t tell if they’re the anemic-looking ones or the ones that come in garish colors. They all melt too fast and are messy, regardless. And we need a lot of them, since we start with two and  light one more each night. I’m not doing the math, but having plenty of candles is essential. I hope you don’t run out.

But that next shelf? What’s with the tea biscuits? A random choice? One of these things is not like the others.

Then we have boxes of Striet’s matzos (the onion and poppy variety, and do you know why they’re called “Moonstrips”? ). Perhaps you are not aware that matzos are associated with a DIFFERENT Jewish holiday — Passover — that occurs in the spring.

Most people I know are happy to have a whole year between Passovers, when leavened products are supposed to be avoided in favor of unleavened, which generally means eating more matzo than is actually good for you. What it does to your guts. . . well, we don’t need to go there.

And next door to the matzo we find the Manischewitz potato pancake mix. I didn’t check the “best use by” date on these. Maybe next time. I’ll pass for now.

Alongside the boxes of potato pancake mix are bags of Manischewitz skinny egg noodles, the kind you might put in your chicken soup, along with some matzo balls. (I’m surprised the Streitz’s matzo meal isn’t on these shelves. You can make perfectly good matzo balls just following the recipe on the box, for crying out loud.)

But you were sort of on the right track for Hanukkah, with the potato pancake mix anyway, until we get to the bottom shelf, which is full of (I wish it weren’t so) boxes of Lipton (Lipton!) matzo ball and soup mix and some just plain matzo ball mix. At least they’re kosher. Kosher for Passover, which is, as I pointed out above, a different holiday with different traditional foods. Kosher for Passover is good — for Passover. Not really a thing that matters for Hanukkah. Basically, you lumped Passover, Hanukkah and “generic Jewish stuff” all together with some outlier tea biscuits.

The grape juice on the bottom shelf is probably a stand-in for Manischewitz Concord grape wine that is served in some households on PASSOVER. You can drink whatever fine wine you want at Hannukah — including something that goes with fried potato latkes, if such a thing exists. Again, not your problem — or mine.

In conclusion,  I’m hoping to draw your attention to this lumping together of stuff that goes along with one Jewish holiday or another without paying attention to what is traditional for either one. How hard would it be to ask someone, “So, what goes with Hanukkah anyway?”– and just put out the appropriate things at the right time of year? And Lipton over Streit’s?  A shonda!

Please, just put the matzo in the back and wait until spring. It won’t get stale, trust me.

Risa Nye, aka Ms. Barstool, is a freelance writer based in Oakland. This post was originally published on Nye’s blog, Zero to Sixty and Beyond.

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  • Just Sayin

    This is exactly the sort of thing I DO NOT want to read on Berkeleyside.

  • serkes

    The headline got a literal LOL from me.

    It made me think of this photo



  • Frankly, I’m amazed you guys actually hit publish on this whiny-ass blog post. But, Berkeleyside, you are in luck! I put my PhD to work doing some research on your behalf and it appears livejournal.com/~berkeleyside is still available.

  • Andrew D

    I found that hilarious. Thanks for the inclusion. There are lots of things on B-side that I find not as much to my liking. I simply click away and move on to something else; it’s really pretty minimal effort. On occasion, if I discern a trend I am unsatisfied with I might send some nicely worded feedback to the editors directly. Maybe some of us were raised with more tact than others.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Starting at the top, you have bags of Hanukkah gelt. Good for you. These chocolate coins are like poker chips you can use when you play gambling games with your dreidel.”

    Traditionally, parents gave small presents of a few coins to children each evening of Hanukkah – and that was the Hanukkah gelt. Now, the chocolate coins are so common that they seem like the tradition to me.

    Most people don’t know what the letters on the dreidel really stand for.

    The official explanition is that they stand for “nes gadol hayah shom.” This is usually translated “a great miracle happened there,” but it actually means “a great miracle was there.” It sounds to me like stilted Hebrew; I think that normally, you would say “yesh nes gadol shom” (but if there are any native Hebrew speakers on this site, they might want to correct me).

    Originally, the letters stood for how much of the pot you get if the dreidel falls on that letter:
    Nishts (nothing)
    Gantz (all)

    Halb (half)
    Shtal (put – you have to add money to the pot)

  • me

    It’s about time that grocery stores hired an anthropologist who specializes in food to make sure all the appropriate items are out for all the appropriate holidays. And how I dislike it when they lump all the Asian stuff together. Please stop putting Thai condiments in the Japanese section. We shoppers have rights too!

  • Mbfarrel

    Whining is Berkeley’s high art. Are you sure you’re from here?

  • JoaquinSantiago

    Well, if it was as you say an “all-purpose Jewish food display”, just what is the problem? The grocer seems to have covered all the holidays and all the basics. As Thanksgivukkah approaches here’s a ditty to enjoy:

  • serkes

    Many years ago we saw Garrison Keillor’s show at the Masonic Center in San Francisco.

    Ivy Austin sung it … and the roar of delight from the huge crowd was so great, she sung it again!

    As far as I can tell, it’s the only time that every happened.

    Thanks for bringing back a wonderfully fond memory.


  • serkes

    It’s nosh, not kvetch.


  • serkes

    Good point … I often eat matzot and crunchy peanut butter, even when they’re not in season.


  • JoaquinSantiago

    But perfect for Thanksguvukkah!

  • Marconius

    Right on! I love learning more about the Jewish traditions. I’m Irish Catholic; and nobody, ever, ever, attempts to cook Irish Catholic food. That would be a mortal sin.

  • Psht! You want whiny-ass? Don’t even get me started on the way general grocery stores handle gluten free. I thought this was hilarious!

  • Jim Rosenau

    If that was “whiny” I can’t imagine what the complainant would say about what passes for citizen input a typical city council or commission meeting. I liked this elegant, funny rant.

  • deirdre

    To be precise: the mortal sin is attempting to serve Irish Catholic food to others.

    But don’t tell my mom that.

  • Peter

    If you look around you the next time you go to the grocery store you may notice that not everyone there is Jewish, not everyone is concerned about the technical accuracy of the products on the shelves and just maybe THEY WEREN”T AIMED AT YOU! Other people also use products from other cultures and reinvent their uses, AT ALL TIMES OF THE YEAR! Welcome to Berkeley, stick around, maybe you’ll be one of the few who grow up. Maybe not. Eventually we all get over ourselves, even if it’s just in the last few minutes when we suddenly say, NOW I get it, we’re ALL connected, and it’s not all about ME!

  • Cy Silver

    Used to be in most local stores, the Jewish food section is stocked by the wholesaler/distributor of Jewish food in the area (in these parts, used to be Sosnik, on the Peninsula). The local store has no expertise and little to no input of what’s there.

  • British Isles

    I can’t believe how mean spirited some of the comments are here. If the grocer put Easter egg dye and yellow Peeps out with the Christmas foods, now that would be something to talk about. People can be so ignorant!

  • Ms. Discriminata

    Oh, for heaven’s sake, lighten up. (Some folks) It is the season of light for many peoples, is it not?

    Grateful for the chuckles.