Feeling appropriately guilt-ridden frommy last attempt at Hanukkah
, I looked to the Internet in search of something to get me back in the good graces of my people. I soon found that quirky Seattle-based soda company Jones Soda had come out with a line of Hanukkah flavors (with a free dreidel in every box) and quickly placed my order. Before the sodas arrived, I decided to search Houston for the food counterparts to see if Jones had really hit the mark. Once the bottles of Latke, Apple Sauce, Jelly Donut, and Chocolate Coins were safely atop my counter, I was ready for another night of Hanukkah flavors.
Real version: I began my meal with these traditional potato pancakes, deep-fried in the liquid of the season, oil. Four latkes from different “tribes” sat in a circle on my plate. There was Kenny & Ziggy’s unsightly but traditionally dense variety, Central Market’s nicely styled onion-filled cakes, Leibman’s Wine & Fine Foods' elegant and not overly greasy silver-dollar-sized mini and my personal favorite, Saba’s Kosher Kitchen’s savory nests of potato goodness.
Carbonated version: “There could be some vomiting involved. Potato soda has to be disgusting,” a friend of mine warned. He wasn’t far off. The moment I undid the cap, the smell of starch filled my nostrils. The oil-colored liquid was salty at first (no surprises there, since the bottle contains a whopping 240 mg of sodium) with an aftertaste that - suffice to say – came closest to latke grease.
Real version: You can’t have latkes without fresh applesauce! Well, tell that to the people of Houston. “Mrs. Leibman didn’t make any this year,” I was informed. Apparently neither did Saba’s or Central Market. Luckily, Kenny & Ziggy’s did. The soft and comforting puree was a perfect topping for my plate of latkes.
Carbonated version: I expected this soda to taste like a low-end version of Martinelli’s apple cider, but the tart hint was sadly absent. However, I was pleased to find that the flavor of Apple Sauce soda, while it lasted, was still so undeniably close to the real thing that I almost tried dipping my latke in the bottle.
Moving on to dessert...
Real version: Now I’ll be honest, the idea of jelly donuts as a Hanukkah staple was news to me. I consulted the experts and found that no, this was not some elaborate plan my parents had created to keep me from donuts for dinner, but instead the result of my being an Ashkenazi as opposed to a Sephardic Jew. Eager to make up for lost time, I headed out to Three Brother’s Bakery, where I picked up two sugar-dusted jelly donuts. With a mere dot of red jam in the middle, these dry doughy balls of bread left a lot to be desired. Luckily, I had also purchased a couple of donuts at Saba’s, and like that place's latkes, these were moist and delicious.
Carbonated version: Jelly Donut soda might be Homer Simpson’s dream, but unless you’re craving a cavity, it probably won't be yours. Smelling like the kind of perfume a sixth grader might wear, this syrupy-sweet, bubblegum-colored treat does not go down easy, but I give the folks at Jones an A for effort since, much like the donuts, the jelly aftertaste is definitely accounted for.
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Real version: For my final sampling I headed to The Chocolate Bar for its version of gelt. Sure that this would leave me missing my waxy-flavored childhood treat, I also grabbed an orange mesh bag full of the real stuff from Kroger and got to work. Neither coin was particularly delicious, but peeling that gold foil off the thin candy sure brought back a lot of stress…er, memories.
Carbonated version: The Chocolate Coins soda was by far my favorite beverage. The smell and taste were reminiscent of a Tootsie Roll Pop, and the dark brown Coke-like color added a bit of normalcy to my otherwise peculiar soda-drinking night.
Next year, I think Jones Soda should include a meat option in its Happy Chanukah Pack, or at least one based on my Great Aunt Mildred’s carrot pudding. Luckily, my online soda order also included the Christmas Pack featuring the oh-so-delicious sounding Christmas Ham. Can’t wait. - Sophie Rosenblum