As a kid, the biggest revelation about Hanukkah was how much fried food you get to eat. While other Jewish holidays have big brisket dinners or poppy-seed flecked cookies, Hanukkah is a holiday that does not adhere to any sort of nutritional standard and instead, absolutely commits to oil symbolism.
As a West Coast Angeleno, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my city — home of green juices and the grain bowls — also boasted one of the best fried Hanukkah offerings:
Though it’s not the most common factoid about the city, Los Angeles is the donut capital of the United States, boasting more than 1500 fried pastry shops across the city. (If you want a more anecdotal measurement, whenever I’m stuck in traffic I see how many donut joints I can spot on my journey — the game reliably keeps me entertained the whole way to my destination.)
This incredible statistic is due to one Cambodian refugee’s efforts in the mid-70s: Ted Ngoy. Now nicknamed “The Donut King,” Ngoy turned his small role at Winchell’s donut company into his own independently owned shop. From there, Ngoy was able to sponsor visas for other Khmer Rouge refugees to break into the Los Angeles donut industry, and with the addition of popularizing the pale pink donut take-out box, he was able to create an empire.
In the 40 years since, the Los Angeles donut scene is just as vibrant as ever, and is still majority run by Cambodians. A personal favorite of mine is DK donuts, a family business that’s been open 24 hours a day since 1981, who found massive success in Santa Monica with creations like purple ube cake and Fruity Pebbles donut flavors.
Given the adoration of jelly donuts (or sufganiyot) during Hanukkah, I can’t help but but look at the city’s entanglement with the dessert and think: Los Angeles is a pretty perfect place to celebrate Hanukkah.
Not only is there always an abundance of unique, high-quality donuts to choose from (and one of the larger Jewish populations in the U.S.), but I feel that the history of the donut empire is quite reminiscent of the Hanukkah story. With sacrifice and dedication, the donut became Los Angeles’ symbol of immigrant resilience, and a testament to the melting pot of culture and cuisine that can exist within one city. Here, a version of the miracle of oil burning for eight days exists within the tenacity of Cambodian Angelenos who managed to make a whole lot of donuts with the cards that they were dealt.
Los Angeles is made up of a lot of different myths: You may associate it with Hollywood, a health-conscious paradise or even a vapid influencer safe-haven. But to me, it also deserves the Hanukkah crown. Consider going out West next time the holiday rolls around — grabbing a baker’s dozen may feel holier than ever.