“I make latkes like a Jew, I add a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and that’s it. Jewish cooking is simple,” Clarisa Krivopisk told me as she measured salt in her hand to season a large bowl of grated potatoes and onions. The co-owner and brains in the kitchen behind Villa Crespo’s acclaimed Jewish-style deli, La Crespo, may be be known for making one of the best pastrami sandwiches in Buenos Aires, but this family run spot has also mastered the art of the perfectly crisp latke.
In a city with the largest Jewish population in all of Latin America, La Crespo stands alone as one of the only restaurants that serves Eastern European Jewish specialties to a widespread clientele of barrio locals, deli-homesick foreigners, secular Jews, and Argentine goys. The latkes, along with most of the dishes cooked at La Crespo, are extended family recipes passed down, shared, and tweaked.
Knishes, boios, strudel, liver paté, gravlax, and latkes all appear on La Crespo’s reduced menu year round. “I love it that people are coming from afar for the home cooked Jewish food that I’ve been cooking for my family for years, and even more that young people are coming and loving it," said Krivopisk.
It’s Ashkenazi tradition to eat fried foods during Hanukkah to commemorate the importance of oil, which miraculously burned for eight days instead of one. Unlike Hanukkah latke recipes in North America, where the potato pancake is served with applesauce or sour cream, La Crespo appeals to a more local palate with a savory topping - placing a dollop of hummus with a slice of house cured gravlax on top.
“Argentine Jews don’t put applesauce on latkes, it would be way too sweet,” Krivoposik explains while taking the sizzling golden brown potato disk out of the fryer.
Impeccably seasoned and fried, Krivoposik effortlessly prepares the dish with ease, in under 10 minutes, as if her eyes are closed and hands tied behind her back. With cooking in her blood, she attributes her passion for cooking to her grandfather, a butcher and baker in Romania before immigrating to Argentina, saying “for so many years in the Old World our families and people had nothing to eat. Food for Jews plays a very important part of who we are today for that reason.”
The secret to La Crespo’s latkes? “It’s in the produce," Krivoposik said. "I only use high quality fresh ingredients. It’s that simple. Listen, my grandchildren eat here, so I serve every customer like I would my family.”