Every Jewish holiday has a food that is identified with it, apart from Sukkot.
Rosh Hashana has apples and honey. Chanuka has latkes. There’s hamantaschen for Purim; we eat matza for
Pesach and blintzes for Shavuot. (Yom Kippur doesn’t have a food — but it’s a fast.)
But when it comes to the joyous fall holiday of Sukkot, there is no one specific food that reminds us of the history of the holiday, or is aligned with its message.
You could say (as some do) that we eat foods that are harvested at this “time of ingathering.” You might point out that we like to eat warm, hearty soups because Sukkot is usually a cold, damp time. Or you may say “all of the foods we eat have a special flavor due to the fact that we are eating them outside, in the Sukkah” (chabad.org).
Nevertheless, the fact remains that there is no one food that is eaten by all on Sukkot.
Some say we should eat foods that are stuffed, to symbolize an abundant harvest and an abundance of blessings. Like stuffed cabbage (aka holishkes), stuffed peppers, turkey stuffing or strudel.
Some have a custom to eat kreplach on Hoshana Rabba. Kreplach are small squares of rolled pasta dough filled with ground beef or chicken and folded into triangles. Hoshana Rabba is considered the very last phase of the Divine judgment. Kreplach symbolize the hiddenness of G-d’s verdict.
Others eat cabbage soup due to a play on words: On Hoshana Rabba, one of the prayers is “kohl mevasser, mevasser v’omer” (the voice of the messenger cries out). Kohl, in Yiddish, is cabbage, and vasser is water. Hence cabbage soup.
Sephardic Jews eat couscous on Sukkot. They make it into a stew with many vegetables, as a way to symbolize an abundant harvest.
Whatever your custom, I wish you a very happy and healthy Sukkot and a good, sweet and peaceful new year 5772.
(Rabbi Eli Seidman is the director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging.)