Last night many Jewish homes in Hong Kong were filled with the enticing aroma of gently frying potatoes and onions. And they will be tonight and for the next six nights - along with the delicious scent of deep-fried doughnuts, perhaps filled with a hot berry jam. Food fried in oil lies at the heart of the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah or Chanukah - an eight-day festival which this year began on yesterday. The story goes that when the Maccabees rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem after driving the Syrians (then part of the Greek empire) out of Israel, only one flask of oil was left. This would ordinarily have been enough to keep the Temple candle lit for one day, but miraculously it lasted eight. So over the Hanukkah period, Jewish people keep a hanukkiyah or menorah - a nine-branch candelabra - in their homes, lighting one extra candle each evening with the ninth permanently lit one. They also celebrate by making and eating oil-based food such as latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts to mark the miracle of that one flask of oil. 'Hanukkah is a very pleasant, warming celebration,' says Sharon Ser, a partner at Withers law firm in Hong Kong. 'As you light the candles every night, you make a blessing, then you eat. If you're not eating, then you're not Jewish.' And it seems there is something special about latkes. The fried potato patty appears to tantalise the taste buds like no other food. 'Latkes are a fabulous dish. They are the most delicious meal in the world,' says Ser, a former president of the United Jewish Congregation (UJC) in Hong Kong. American Robert Green, who runs the Amazing Grace crafts store, agrees: 'Most people associate latkes with Hanukkah, but they happen to be the favourite dish of our family all year round. 'In fact, I had the honour one year of participating in the Latke-Hamantaschen Debate staged by the UJC. I was defending the Hamantasch - a triangular pastry and a traditional Jewish treat associated with the holiday of Purim - but was seriously outclassed by an opponent who had what I felt was the much easier job of defending the much-loved latke. Fortunately, we are still friends.' But it's at Hanukkah that the latke comes into its own. 'Food is tremendously important to Jewish people,' Ser says. 'On Friday nights there is a tradition for families to get together around the table. Unlike some Jewish festivals, you don't have to fast for Hanukkah. It's a real celebration of non-fasting, an orgy of food for eight days.' Like many Jewish people living in Hong Kong, Ser will be making the traditional latkes this year. 'There is something evocative about making them at home and having that lovely smell from the kitchen when you walk through the door,' she says. They couldn't be easier to make: grated potato, onion, matzo and a bit of salt, all deep-fried.' The ease of making latkes adds to their appeal. 'It's a virtuous food I love to make because of its simplicity and the many variations to which it lends itself,' says Green. And everyone has his own version and preferred way of making them. 'You don't want them too greasy; they have to be crispy on the outside but soft on the inside,' says Ser. 'Americans will eat them with stewed apple, but we don't do that in Britain. The British tend to serve it with salt beef, which is delicious.' Green's potato latke recipe is based on one from a classic cookbook of German, Eastern European and Jewish cuisine, The Settlement Cook Book, which he found in an old bookshop many years ago. Originally issued in 1901 as a fund-raiser, it is still in print, he says. 'I can't lay claim to a definitive latke bearing the family name, but when I used to cook snacks for my two sons before they left for college, they seemed to like the 'surprise latke', which usually included some grated cheese thrown into the mix, occasionally some chopped up leftovers found in the fridge, and a judicious selection of various seasonings found in the kitchen cabinet.' But let's not forget the other foodie star of Hanukkah - sufganiyot, a type of doughnut. Avi Cohen, who runs the Kitchen in Mui Wo on Lantau Island, used to celebrate Hanukkah in Israel by attending synagogue and having dinner with family and friends. In Hong Kong he will make sufganiyot. 'We won't sell them, we'll give them away to celebrate the spirit of the holiday,' he says. 'We make them the traditional way: deep fried with a filling of strawberry jam and icing sugar on top. I promise they taste amazing.' Every night throughout Hanukkah, there will be a food-centric celebration where friends and family gather together. 'I won't be cooking every night, but we'll definitely make a big deal out of the first and last nights of Hanukkah,' Ser says. 'On the first night, I will go to the synagogue, and during the period, someone will invite me over to their home. Usually, people with children will invite me over. Traditionally children are given a chocolate coin (or gelt) every night during Hanukkah.' Traditional food is available outside of the home, too, such as at the Jewish Community Centre on Robinson Road. Every year Orthodox Jews organise a huge candle lighting in Chater Garden. They erect and light a massive electric menorah, and stalls sell latkes and doughnuts. Ser will also be organising her own, long-standing celebration: Hanukkah Cocktails with vegetarian dim sum at the China Club. 'The staff love it,' says Ser. 'They call it Jewish Christmas, and many of the staff come in to watch the singing and dancing.' There is much to celebrate. As Ser says: 'Hanukkah is the story of freedom. [The Old Testament book of] Exodus is the core of much Jewish prayer, and this is another opportunity to celebrate freedom. It's a test of optimism and hope, and the ultimate belief in miracles. That's why Hanukkah is a really interesting holiday.'