From pastrami sandwiches to matzah balls, there was a lot of Jewish food in the famous show.
We all know Seinfeld was one of the most Jewish television shows of all time. Even though Jerry was the only actual member of the tribe among the four highly neurotic, questionably moral main characters, and even though he didn’t often explicitly mention his religion, the nine-season long series was bursting at the seams with Jewish cultural references—not least of which included food.
From classic episodes like “The Soup Nazi” to more hidden gems like a bowl of kasha shared in bed, I rounded up all the Seinfeld episodes that feature Jewish food in some way, and present them to you in chronological order.
Hopefully I didn’t miss any—I’ve only seen each episode nine bajillion times.
“The Suicide” Season 3, Episode 32
In this episode, Elaine needs to fast for three days before taking an ulcer test. Meanwhile, Jerry’s neighbor, Martin, attempts to commit suicide. Jerry visits Martin in the hospital, where the comatose man’s girlfriend flirts with him. Jerry’s mortal enemy, Newman, witnesses this, and threatens to tell Martin everything. Jerry attempts to buy Newman off with a Drake’s Coffee Cake—a kosher confection from the makers of Ring Dings and Yodels. Unfortunately, this plan backfires when a starving Elaine gobbles up the cake.
“The Dinner Party” Season 5, Episode 77
An all-time classic episode, this one features not one but two Jewish food references. The fearsome foursome are on their way to a dinner party, and Elaine insists they must bring wine and a cake. Off they go to the Royal Bakery to get a chocolate babka—that bready, swirly Jewish dessert dreams are made of. Unfortunately, a couple in front of them (going to the same party) purchase the last chocolate babka, forcing Elaine to settle for cinnamon, a “lesser babka” (I agree).
But wait, there was a hair on the cinnamon babka, so while Jerry and Elaine wait in line for a new one, we get to our second Jewish food reference of the episode: the black and white cookie. Jerry nibbles on one of these Jewish deli staples while waxing poetically about race relations: “Oh look Elaine, the black and white cookie. I love the black and white. Two races of flavor living side by side in harmony. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it?”
“The Hamptons” Season 5, Episode 85
Here we have our anti-Jewish food episode. The group and a few of their significant others take a trip to the Hamptons to visit a friend’s new baby. Kramer discovers a filled lobster trap on the beach and brings them back for the group to feast on. Meanwhile, Jerry’s girlfriend Rachel walks in on George changing after the pool, catching a glimpse of his “shrinkage.” After Rachel tells George’s girlfriend about the underwhelming sight, she splits. George exacts revenge by feeding Rachel, who keeps kosher, a scrumptious dish of scrambled eggs, failing to tell her there’s lobster in them. Not cool, George. Not cool.
“The Doorman” Season 6, Episode 104
Jewish food doesn’t come in until the very end of this episode, in which Frank Costanza is temporarily living with George while separated from his wife, Estelle. First we get such gems as “The Bro,” a bra for men (or should it be called “The Manssiere”?) schemed up by Frank and Kramer. Meanwhile, Jerry covers for the doorman in Elaine’s boss’ building, but eschews his duties, leading to a couch from the lobby getting stolen. George offers up his couch with the hopes that this would leave his father with nowhere to sleep, thus prompting him to go back to his wife. Instead, in the final scene, we see Frank climbing into George’s bed with a bowl of kasha, the ultimate old Jewish man food that originated with Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Frank offers George a bite. He declines.
“The Soup Nazi” Season 7, Episode 116
Do I really have to remind you the plot of this one? I’m pretty sure babies born in remote villages of Antarctica could recite the classic line, “No soup for you!” The gang discovers a shop selling the most delicious soup they’ve ever tasted, but there’s only one problem: It’s run by a psychopath with strict rules one must follow in order to get served, thus earning the nickname that has lived on in infamy.
“The Rye” Season 7, Episode 121
Another classic, and one of my all-time favorites, this episode centers around the time George’s parents meet his girlfriend Susan’s parents for the first time at a home-cooked dinner. The Costanzas decide to bring over a loaf of marble rye from Schnitzer’s Bakery. After a disastrous dinner in which Susan’s father gets drunk and the Costanzas expose themselves as the less-than-graceful (though IMO quite loveable) couple they are, George discovers the marble rye sitting in the backseat of the car on the way home. Frank admits that since they didn’t serve the loaf at dinner, he decided to take it back with him. This horrifies George, who’s trying to make a good impression on Susan’s parents, so he schemes up a plan to get another loaf back into the Ross’ home.
George sends Jerry on a mission to get another rye from Schnitzer’s—but uh oh, the old woman in front of him in line gets the last loaf. After begging to buy it off of her for $50, Jerry does what any successful, well-adjusted adult male would do: pries it out of her hands while shouting, “Shut up, you old bag!” He gets it to the Ross’ just in time for George to literally reel it into their second floor window with a fishing rod, only to be caught red-handed by Susan and her parents. Because of course.
“The Fatigues” Season 8, Episode 140
Ah yes, the episode where Kramer volunteers to cater a Jewish Singles Night. What could go wrong? After working three different kitchens to whip up some brisket, kugel, and kreplach, he discovers that he doesn’t actually know how to cook (edible) Jewish food. He enlists the help of George’s dad, Frank, who was a chef in the army but suffers from PTSD after serving bad meat to the troops, giving them all food poisoning. Kramer’s able to convince Frank to throw the apron back on, and their food is a hit at the singles events (“Have you tried the hamantashen?” “I can’t get off the kishkas.” “Ya know these latkesare going like hotcakes”). Unfortunately, Elaine’s coworker Eddie, who always wears military fatigues, is a guest at the event and starts choking on a piece of bread, sending Frank into a tailspin—he ends up tipping over the entire smorgasbord.
“The Blood” Season 9, Episode 160
After his girlfriend lights a vanilla-scented candle while they do the deed, George realizes he gets super turned on by the idea of incorporating food into his sex life. So, naturally, the next time they’re ready to make love, he turns to his favorite food—a pastrami sandwich. He even tries to add one more element for the perfect “trifecta,” attempting to watch TV while eating the sandwich during sex. His girlfriend, shockingly, does not approve and kicks him out. We’re given a happy ending, though, when George is introduced to Elaine’s friend Vivian, who’s pulling a tray of pastrami out of her oven. She says one of my favorite line’s of all time, “I find the pastrami to be the most sensual of all the salted, cured meats,” and bam, George has found his soul mate (for one episode at least).
“The Strike” Season 9, Episode 166
The long-running joke on Seinfeld is that Kramer never has a job. In this episode, we learn that he’s actually been on strike for 12 years from H&H Bagels—so when he gets the call the strike is over, he heads straight back to the bagel shop. This is also the episode that brought us the greatest non-holiday of all time, Festivus. When Kramer learns about George’s dad’s made-up holiday that involves an airing of grievances and feats of strength, he decides he’d like to celebrate, too, so he requests the day off from work. His request is denied, so it’s back to the picket lines for Kramer. He ends his own strike when he needs to use the bathroom in the bagel shop, and in the last scene, we see him making a fresh batch while getting his chewing gum stuck in the dough. He’s fired once and for all.
OK, the following episodes might not technically feature Jewish food, but they deserve some honorable mentions. You’ll see what I mean.
“The Chinese Restaurant” Season 2, Episode 16
This episode, which takes place entirely in the lobby of a Chinese restaurant, features Chinese food (obviously), but name me a Jew who doesn’t love Chinese food, especially on Christmas? Go on, I’ll wait.
“The Alternate Side” Season 3, Episode 28
“These pretzels are making me thirsty!” It’s one of the most quotable lines in all of Seinfeld, and while pretzels aren’t Jewish, per se, Kramer needs to say the line for a new movie being directed by Woody Allen, who is Jewish (whether we like it or not).
“The Face Painter” Season 6, Episode 109
The Jewish food in question doesn’t make a physical appearance in this episode, but it does exist in the perfect metaphor. George decides he’s going to tell his girlfriend he loves her for the first time, but when Jerry asks if he’s confident he’ll receive a return “I love you,” George says he’s 50-50. “Cause if you don’t get that return, that’s a pretty big matzah ball hanging out there.” Turns out George doesn’t hear the three magic words back (unbeknownst to him, his girlfriend doesn’t hear well out of one ear).
Big matzah ball, indeed.