I really never wanted to move to New York. But I did get jealous every time Jerry, Elaine, Kramer or George obsessed over something delicious that they ate. Whether it was a well-earned crab bisque from the Soup Nazi or a big salad from Monk’s, more than a few foods became a “thing” with the zany crew of Seinfeld. Some of them broadened my food knowledge (see: soup), and others just made me hungry.
Some of these NYC gems seem nearly forgotten in the midst of cronuts, bronuts (doughnuts eaten by bros) and other exotic (unnecessary) food hybrids. Here is a lovesong to these classic NYC foods—ones I imagined eating while dancing about in glorious bliss like Elaine when she ate Mr. Peterman’s cake from King Edward VIII’s wedding.
Chocolate Babka – Episode 77, “The Dinner Party”
Back in Pittsburgh, my mom always knew not to buy chocolate babka and expect it to last more than a day. It is too damn good. Luscious, rich chocolate flavor pervades layers of deliciously sweet spongy cake with yummy streusel on top. Of course, no one really wants a cinnamon babka, the lesser brother of the two, and no one will ever want that one with the hair on it. Catch me at Breads Bakery grabbing the two babka special. You can freeze one for later!
Black and white cookie – Episode 77, “The Dinner Party”
A favorite of Jerry’s, not of mine. He eats it while waiting to exchange their second-rate cinnamon babka, explaining that the cookie symbolizes racial harmony. How beautiful, Jerry. I always felt like I should like them, and I really wanted to like them to feel truly Jewish. But I’m just not a fan of the dry cookie texture and the thick fondant icing. It doesn’t go down smoothly and can easily ruin a good cup of coffee. It’s babka’s more attractive sister who has no character. Go figure!
The Big Salad – Episode 88, “The Big Salad”
Living in NYC, I love when foods are big. Food is expensive, so I only want to spend money on the stuff that’s gonna keep my belly full for the day. I want a huge sandwich or a huge cookie. When I give in once a year and buy a salad for lunch, you best believe I want a “big salad.”
I totally understand Elaine’s love for the big salad. It’s perfect for lunch. The lesson learned from this episode is not to take credit for buying a food item for someone unless you are the person who actually bought it. Put that on the top five list of things to teach your kids.
Soup – Episode 116, “The Soup Nazi”
As a kid, I really never thought about soup that much. My mom made matzo ball soup about once a year, and I told her it tasted like the vacuum cleaner, as in the taste of it reminded me of the smell of the vacuum cleaner. I liked cleaning as a child, but I didn’t eat the vacuum cleaner. Other than that, soup didn’t play a huge role in my childhood.
When the Soup Nazi episode aired, I realized I had been missing out on a world of soup. Apparently soup could be life-changing, as demonstrated by folks enduring the intense regimen of the Soup Nazi.
George ordered a crab bisque. What the heck was that, I wondered as an eight-year old? A doggone delicious seafood soup, I later found. To this day, it’s one of my top three soups (of course matzo ball is #1, preferably from Katz’s.) When I order soup from a deli counter, in my head I sound like George, as he orders in robotic terror: “one….crab…bisque.” I thought all places in New York would be that strict, but it’s mostly only like that during lunch hour in Midtown. Or if you lose your ticket at Katz’s.
Marble Rye – Episode 121, “The Rye”
When George’s parents and Susan’s parents meet for the first time, they clash. Mr. Costanza has brought a marble rye bread, and at the end of the party, takes it back.
“They didn’t put it out!” he said.
The Costanzas live by their own rules, and messing with Mr. Costanza is always a bad idea. After this fiasco, Jerry is given the task of finding a marble rye for George to replace the other one. He ends up stealing a marble rye from a woman he calls an “old bag,” played by the adorable Frances Bay.
“He stole my marble rye!” —Old Bag
In my time so far in New York, I haven’t gotten into any rye bread shenanigans. I’ll have to make that a priority.
Muffin tops – Episode 155, “The Muffin Tops”
“Top of the muffin to you!”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. I love the crunch of the top of a muffin. Nothing’s worse than finishing the top, then realizing you have a stump leftover, which you shouldn’t waste. The stump is oh-so-meh compared to that warm crunchy top though. The problem is, you have to eat the top first while it’s still warm to get the full effect, thus leaving you with the stupid cold stump.
Before “muffin tops” were a pop culture saying and Jenna sang about them on 30 Rock, they were all about the food itself. I totally understood the quandary with muffin tops, so this episode hit me on a personal level at age ten.
In this episode, Lippmann opens a new joint called “Top of the Muffin To You!” Living here now, I realize this place is so New York. Choose something incredibly specific, and make a store that sells just that item. Give it a kitschy name, and you’re on your way! (Take out the exclamation point to boost sales.)
In a glorious Pulp Fiction spoof, Newman is hired as a ‘cleaner’ to get rid of the muffin stumps. It’s a classic harebrained scheme, and every second fills me with warm joy.
Pie – Episode 79, “The Pie”
Jerry has pie (read: pizza). Jerry gives his girlfriend a bite of pie. His girlfriend refuses. Jerry cannot get over the fact that she wouldn’t eat the pie. Jerry is upset.
Later, the two enter the girlfriend’s father’s restaurant, Poppie’s. Jerry sees Poppie after using the bathroom, and Poppie does not wash his hands. Jerry thus rejects a piece of pizza from Poppie.
This episode is about sanitary eating. Related real life case: Smorgasburg. The best way to try a lot of food at Smorgasburg is to share a bunch of stuff with friends. This means you will be caught up in the moment under a hot day’s sun, eating off of each other’s forks and making out with each other’s tacos. Eating all New York has to offer is an impossible feat, so you better throw your morals and sanitation rules out the window, or you’ll be left in the dirt while your friends are already in line for Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue.
As for the handwashing issue, all we can do is hope for the best.
Chicken – Episode 142, “The Chicken Roaster”
Chicken and I have had a long relationship. From ordering family size meals at a chicken store in London to eating fried chicken three times in one weekend here in NYC, I understand how chicken can easily take over your life. For Kramer, Kenny Rogers’ blazing red sign was keeping him up at night. Then, there was the chicken.
In every neighborhood I’ve lived in here, there is a chicken situation. There’s always a Popeye’s within a three-minute walk. Then there’s the jerk chicken. Perfectly spicy and so soft, it’s my favorite chicken of all. Its aroma is always present on summer nights when I leave the train station, and it always calls my name.
“Newman, you wouldn’t eat broccoli if it was deep-fried in chocolate sauce.”
Mango – Episode 65, “The Mango”
As exotic as soup was to a young impressionable Pittsburgh girl, mango was something beyond my reach. I had never tasted a mango, but I sure loved the mango flavor at Rita’s Italian Ice after this episode aired. The first episode of Season 5, it focused on things like faking orgasms and sex “to save the friendship.” Kramer gives George a taste of mango, which sparks his libido, leading him to try sleeping with his girlfriend again whom he thinks is faking orgasms. All in all, I probably didn’t understand exactly what this all meant, but those mangoes sure seemed tasty and interesting! I felt like I was sitting with the cool kids when I ate my mango ice. It was also my sister’s favorite, and she seemed pretty cool at the time, too.
In New York, I’ve always lived near Caribbean family-owned grocery stores, and mangoes are often in their fruit repertoire. Also, lovely women sell cut slices of mango in plastic bags with lime juice and hot sauce near train stations in the summer. This is one of my favorite treats during sweaty New York summers. Thanks for the heads up, Cosmo.
“You gotta stand behind your fruit.” —Kramer
Calzone – Episode 130, “The Calzone”
Who doesn’t love a hot, cheesy, meaty, messy sandwich? I don’t want to know that person.
George’s boss, George Steinbrenner, becomes obsessed with the calzones from Paisano’s. After a tip mishap, George is banned from the spot, thus enlisting Newman and then Kramer to pick up calzones for him.
This episode culminates in the smell of the calzone wafting into Steinbrenner’s office from some clothes Kramer left by the radiator. The smell of food is important; New York often smells like delicious things and sometimes it’s impossible to tell where they came from. There’s one block in Bed-Stuy that always smells like cookies and cake, but there’s no bakery for miles. What a magical tease! Mostly though, New York City smells like garbage and urine, and snow-covered garbage and urine. But a calzone can help you forget that because a calzone can help you take a nap and dream about clean places! Eat calzones.
Conclusion: Sometimes I watch shows and read books because the stories are captivating. Other times, I’m into them because good food is essential to how things pan out. Seinfeld combined the best of both, and I miss it dearly. Larry David, if you see this, let’s grab a bagel or a mango and debate how much tip we should leave.
Beth Kaiserman is chief food critic for Highbrow Magazine. She graduated from Penn State University with a B.A. in Journalism and a Theatre minor for extra dramatic flair. She lives in Brooklyn where there are plenty of sandwiches that inspire poetry and creative dance. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @bak251 for meat updates balanced with a few hearty bowls of veggies.