Sunday, March 25, 2007

outta da box

Eating Chinese food directly outta da (traditional) take-out box (what an ingenious design, btw!).
No plate, no bowl, no serving utensils.
Just dig right into the box with a pair of chopsticks.

Shouldn't be done.
A no no.
It just ain't right.
(see below for my list of reasons why it shouldn't be practiced)

Yet in so many (American-made) movies and TV shows, there it is.
People are eating their Chinese Food Directly Out Of The Box.

The scene is usually of the actors having a casual meal while loafing around, watching TV and donned in their comfy jampies. If there's more than one character they are sometimes seen passing the boxes around so that everyone involved can use their own chopsticks and take a bite of Kung Pao chicken out of this box, Mongolian beef from this box, some fried rice out of that box etc.
At other times the setting is of a particularly lengthy late-night business meeting: the regular dinner hour has been skipped and a quick meal is warranted. Someone invariably 'calls out for Chinese'.

('Hellllluuuuuu! Any Chinese out there?!?!?')

They eat their CFDOOTB as well.

What is the reason for this?
Good question.
To save on washing dishes, right?
Eat outta da box until you're full, close the box, stick it in the fridge as leftovers.

It's cute n' casual dining, eh?
Like pizza.
But not.
Take-out pizza is meant to be eaten with the hands, super-casual, with the slices taken right outta da box.
Add hot wings (also finger food and meant to be eaten directly from the container).
Add napkins.
Wash it down with some beer or soda and it's a meal.

When it comes to 'Asian Ethnic food', we get to the infamous 'Chinese take-out'.
For movies and TV, what prop says ethnic food more than a Chinese take-out box?

OK - so there.
Yes, I do seem to have a major Curmudgeon Issue with eating CFDOOTB.
Here are my reasons:

* If you've ever brought Chinese take-out home and emptied the box of food onto a plate, you probably noticed that there's a LOT of FOOD in that box.
It's packed solid.

* Most Chinese food is prepared by the stir-fry method, and once it is considered cooked to the correct temperature, texture and doneness - it is removed from the wok. In the case of a take-out order, the perfectly cooked food is then boxed 'to go'. Box is closed up and sent along on its merry way.

* Travel time from restaurant to destination where it will be consumed keeps the food
at high temp in the box, therefore cooking it further.
Meat and veggies that are already cooked to the perfect texture and doneness continues to cook longer. Food that is meant to be crispy is often steamed by the moist heat accumulating in the closed box.

* When the food arrives at its destination, it should be immediately taken out of the box and plated, so as to arrest any further cooking/steaming.

* If the food is left boxed and eaten directly from the box, it is not only left compacted, but it continues to cook - alas, be OVERCOOKED by the time the diner gets a fraction of the way down into the box.

* Worse yet, the sauce in Chinese food is thickened with cornstarch, which can congeal in a most unappetizing way when left sitting in the take-out box for too long .

The only Chinese food that is permissible to eat right outta da box is plain steamed rice.
The only time you'll ever catch me eating CFDOOTB is when there is refrigerated leftovers from a take-out the night before.
The next day, I might pick at it (without reheating) before tossing it.
Truth be known, I'm not a big fan of leftover Chinese food...

Anyone who has eaten freshly cooked Chinese food at a restaurant or in someone's home will know the difference between those dishes and the compacted Chinese food that is left in the take-out box to overcook and oversteam.

I've always been bugged by this approach to eating Chinese take-out, and have been a firm believer that no bona fide Chinese person would eat CFDOOTB.

Then, last night - my belief was shattered, big time.
I saw Joan Chen (no less!) in 'Saving Face', where she was eating CFDOOTB!
How can this be?!?

The sky is falling the sky is falling!
Ai Ya!

P.S. 'What an elitist food beeeeeeeeeeeeech you are' so sez HD.
My usual response: 'I have no life'.


jessierose said...


justducky said...

My Mom used to dump out all the containers and mix it all together including rice.

Very weird, but always delicious to me.

Good point about the eating outta the container. My exchange students were especially shocked to see us eating in the car!!

d said...

guilty. i don't know why i like to, but i do eat my take out from the cartons. (my other guilty pleasure is eating it cold next day! but only some things. i wouldn't eat egg drop soup cold for instance.) yes, i know i shouldn't. it has nothing to do with clean up.
perhaps not being able to see, on a plate, enough food for more than one, helps one to feel less piggish?
and the same holds true for pizza. in movies/tv, always see people eating from the box. and pizza steams also. nothing worse than soft, rubbery pizza crust. best place to get best flavor, and crispy crust, a pizzeria. just like chinese food, is best at the restaurant. from stove/oven, to plate.