‘The Goldbergs’ creator on that Jewish culinary ritual.
It’s easy to feel like you really know Adam Goldberg. He’s warm and funny. He asks questions with genuine interest and listens attentively. Having a conversation with him quickly makes you feel like you’re talking to an old friend. Another reason it’s easy to feel like you know him is because, if you’ve seen ABC’s hit sitcom, “The Goldbergs,” which he writes and produces, you’ve had an inside look at his 1980s childhood in the Philadelphia suburb of Jenkintown, Pa.
The Goldbergs of the show are loud, funny and expressive. They have big, distinctive personalities, plenty of family conflict and lots of laughter and warmth. They are just like every American nuclear family, but with more Yiddish and the requisite overbearing mother. The Goldbergs are unmistakably Jewish, although the show hasn’t tackled their ethnicity directly yet. This wacky, highly relatable bunch — a mother, father, grandfather and three kids — are the TV version of Goldberg’s real-life family. The plotlines of the episodes are often derived from Goldberg’s childhood memories.
Among Goldberg’s memories is a tradition celebrated every Dec. 25, when he was growing up. The Goldbergs partook of that time-honored Jewish Christmastime ritual: going out for Chinese food.
“There was this one place we would always go in Philly, Sang Kee Noodle House,” he tells The Jewish Week in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “It was always packed — at least on Christmas — with lots of other local Jews. At dinner, it would be my entire immediate family, and sometimes some of our aunts and uncles, too. We would sit around a table with a lazy susan and order huge bowls of soups and noodles and dumplings.”
The dish that Goldberg most closely associates with this annual tradition isn’t the aforementioned noodles or dumplings, but rather Sang Kee’s Peking duck — one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. A specialty that originated in Beijing, Peking duck has become quite popular stateside.
It’s made by roasting a marinated, seasoned, air-dried whole duck in a special upright oven at a low temperature for several hours. The skin becomes crisp and the thick layer of fat between the skin and the flesh keeps the meat very tender and juicy. It’s typically served with thin, crepe-like pancakes, scallions and hoisin, and guests are encouraged to roll the duck in the pancakes with the condiments.
“I always related to that scene in ‘A Christmas Story’ when the family went out for Chinese food when their Christmas dinner was ruined, and they chopped off the head of the duck, because that was what we would have every Christmas,” Goldberg says. “It was very crispy on the outside, so you’d eat that part, and then, between the skin and the meat, there was this giant layer of fat, and you had to scoop the fat out to get to the meat.”
The family would eat and laugh, and eat some more, together.
And then, of course, there was the issue of MSG, that tabloid staple of the 1980s. “My dad would always ask for no MSG,” Goldberg remembers. “But then my brother Barry would always say, ‘No! Extra MSG!’ and then my dad would get all weirded out.”
“We would absolutely gorge ourselves, until we were too full to move,” says Goldberg. “Then, of course, we’d be hungry again in an hour.”
The fictional Goldbergs won’t be chowing down on Peking duck this Christmas, Goldberg says, but that could change.
“We have a very specific episode planned for this season,” he says. “But, if we get renewed for next season, I’d love to do an episode about our Chinese food Christmas tradition.”
Gabi Moskowitz is a food writer in San Francisco. Read more from her at brokeassgourmet.com.