Every Fourth of July, competitive eaters head to Coney Island in Brooklyn and stuff their faces to see how many hot dogs and buns they can consume. But did you know that the world of competitive eating has lesser known contests, including ones with kosher food? We’re talking matzo balls and hamentaschen. Really. Which begs the gluttonous, super-American question: What is the toughest kosher or culturally Jewish food to eat in mass quantities? I asked the kosher culinary experts—and some comedians—to weigh in.
At first, comedian Elon Gold considered a meat dish but then went with what might seem like an obvious answer. “What comes to my head right away is flanken, which by the way, is flanken delicious,” he said. “But just the bones would be a problem.” He considered the question again. “Maror. Where’s the maror eating contest where everybody’s eyes start tearing up. That’s it. Because you know what I’ve said about a Seder plate: You can throw up on a Seder plate and no one would notice—it would look and smell exactly as it did before.”
Elan Kornblum, president and publisher of Great Kosher Restaurants magazine, picked a different Passover food. He said shmurah matzo would be the toughest to eat. “After a while, it would be very dry,” he said. “I think I could eat maybe three or four.”
Mike Gershkovich, owner and executive chef of Mike’s Bistro, on East 54th Street in New York City, said shmurah matzo might be too dangerous and doesn’t think it should ever be allowed in an eating contest. Instead he went with yapchik, a dish with heavy potato kugel and flanken or other meat. Talk about some heavy lifting…
Ari White, owner and pit-master of The Wandering Que, who won the “Brisket King of New York” title in 2016, said he’d go with ptcha, an Ashkenazi dish made from jellied calves’ feet, or chopped liver. “I wouldn’t want to be the guy that put seven years of cholesterol in my body in one sitting,” he said.
Mendy Merel, owner of the Mendy’s, which became famous on Seinfeld, said it would be funny to see how much charif, or the spicy sauce put on falafel, someone could eat. He also mentioned a classic. “We did have a matzo ball eating contest before,” Merel said. “One guy ate 20 and I think he didn’t go to the bathroom for two weeks.”
Joy of Kosher chef Jamie Geller said it is a joy to eat cholent, but not too much of it. “One time I was judging a contest and after having a spoon or two of 12 different cholents, I was already dying,” she said. “I think a normal person at most could eat three bowls. I don’t know how many a competitive eater could eat.”
Chef Isaac Bernstein, culinary director of Pomegranate in Coney Island, said gribenes would be tough to eat in a large quantity. “A pound of it would kill you,” he said.
But maybe the most simple and digestible answer comes from Comedian Mike Fine, who said: “The hardest thing to eat would be a bagel and cream cheese that didn’t have any lox on it. I couldn’t eat a single sesame seed, if the bagel didn’t have lox on it.”
Alan Zeitlin is a journalist living in Manhattan.