chinese food conundrum

Does anyone else think it’s weird that people in movies and on television shows eat directly out of Chinese food takeout boxes? Do people really do this? I find this behavior baffling for a number of reasons:
1. I am not Chinese, but my family frequently ate Chinese food, and we always ate it family style, meaning we shared the dishes. The people on TV are never by themselves when they eat out of the container, so how do they share? Switch boxes halfway through?
2. When we get Chinese takeout, we order dishes that have sauces, like Mandarin Pork or Tofu with Vegetables. The sauces tend to leak. In addition, the warm sauces render the boxes too flaccid to hold firmly. If you tried to eat one of these dishes directly out of the box, you’d be playing with fire. Fire, I say!
3. I can see how it would be possible to eat, say, chow mein or something with a low sauce factor out of the container, but you know, those boxes are pretty small, and the food is usually highly compressed. Chow mein, like a good red wine, needs room to breathe, don’t you think?
I just keep thinking of that line from Repo Man: “Put it on a plate, dear, it’ll taste better.”
So fess up! Have you ever eaten Chinese food directly out of the box? Should I try it?
And read on for my free ipod lament …


I need TWO MORE referrals before I can get my free ipod. Actually, a good handful of people signed up (thanks!) but did not complete their offers. I am teetering on the brink of giving up, since I can’t talk too many people into helping me (obviously), and frankly, I don’t want to get (more) obnoxious about it. If anyone out there would like to help and doesn’t mind signing up for silly offers or joining pyramid schemes, here is my referral link. Please bear in mind that you must use Internet Explorer and disable any popup stoppers and/or spam killers when you sign up AND when you link to your offer.

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33 Responses to chinese food conundrum

  1. Meg says:

    In my first apartment ever, I ate right out of the box, with chopstix. I was so flat broke, it felt victorious just to scrape together enough money for rent and Chinese food. Buying plates or silverware seemed secondary at the time. Still, not a bad experience.

  2. Michele says:

    And what about the rice? If I ate my take-out directly out of the little carton I would be missing the steamed rice that should sit under it and normally comes in a second container.

  3. freecia says:

    I am Chinese and can only get away with “eating out of the box” if my mother isn’t around. Before we figured out that reheating the containers is bad for you, I perfected my metal handle removal skills (push, pull clear of hole, pull back so other end is at a 90 degree angle, slide other end out) . Now my mother reheats by steaming the leftovers in a bowl in the wok. I sometimes eat it cold out of the box- then all sauce viscosity has been reduced and less dripping. Eating out of the box is like eating cold pizza- best done when you want a snack while no one is looking.
    My personal rules for acceptable eat-out-of-box:
    1) you’re going to eat the entire box by yourself.
    2) Leftovers. Fresh Chinese deserves a bowl.
    3) Those who demand plates should not be around to see you eat from the box
    4) Deliberate upon the merits of using a fork for additional control within confines of box.
    5) non-reheating. Reheating the box somehow weakens it and don’t even think about reheating styrofoam. It’s been proven to be hazardous.
    6) “Freshness” of less than 36 hours. Some might insist on shorter but I find 36 hour old Chinese-in-a-box to be the max. It then takes on the shape of the box like a can of pet food.

  4. MONA says:

    It’s like going to a chinese restaurant and watching two people order the exact same thing and is served individually.
    I always find that baffling.
    Mona from Malaysia

  5. Jessica says:

    I eat out of the box all the time. But only leftovers. Makes me hungry just thinking about it…

  6. kai says:

    On a movie or tv set, having a character eat out of the takeout box might say something about the character, and/or make things a little easier for the prop people. If you see someone drinking out of a mug on tv, it’s probably an empty mug (or at take 16, bladders are ready to burst).
    I too have been completely perplexed by people who go to a Chinese restaurant together, each order a single dish, and don’t share. I’ve asked about this, and the reasoning seems to be that it’s too hard to find things that everyone will like. ? I never have that problem. So I’ll skip going to eat Chinese or Thai with people who will just eat a *whole plate* of General Tsos chicken and nothing else. Although I did go have dim sum with a friend and his Malaysian-Chinese parents who took great delight in feeding me chicken feet. I ate one, it was fine, but I don’t think I would have ordered it (it was mostly sauce and chewy tendon).
    I’ve eaten cold leftover fried rice out of the box. Alone, standing up in the kitchen, late at night, very hungry.

  7. rae says:

    I LOVE Chinese food and half the fun is sharing! and I agree with Michele, how can you put sauce over your rice or cake noodles (my fav) if you eat out of the box?
    ps the ipod folks don’t seem to like my international address : (

  8. Janet says:

    That has always perplexed me as well. Nothing redefines a friendship more than eating Chinese food with somebody and finding out they don’t share.
    It would totally offend my sensibilities to sit around with my friends eating out of take-out boxes.

  9. Adrian says:

    I’ve never eaten out of a takeout container in my life! Everything tastes better on a plate.

  10. Shirley says:

    Okay I’ll bite (pun intended). IMHO well…yes I do eat out of la box like everyone else when it is only for moi and I am alone. As for TV and movies, I think it is used to identify that it is such…Chinese food. Otherwise, if you see stuff on plates sans boxes people eating with chopsticks how would the audience know what they were eating? Yeah, I know it sounds a bit dumbing down. Finally, as for reheating the food in the microwave, now days in my area they don’t have the metal handles any more at least the better take-outs don’t.

  11. Cyndilou says:

    I’m an outta the box type of Chinese-food eater, myself. I do admit however, that if I am not the only one eating from the box, I’ll put mine on a plate rather than scarfing directly from the box, since sharing cooties is rude. :D

  12. Lydia says:

    In grad school, I would sometimes eat out of the box.
    This, though, would only be in specialized circumstances. The food would be leftovers (and, now that I think about it, was usually pad thai rather than Chinese food), I would pull out the handle and open up the box into a shallow dish before microwaving and eating it, and it would usually be before I left town for a while and right after I’d done the dishes. This way, I only had to wash my chopsticks, which I could do quickly under the tap, rather than having to get out the dishpan to wash a bowl or plate. I usually ate this standing up at the counter, too.
    And yes, I felt dirty doing this.

  13. sharlyn says:

    Never. I grew up eating Chinese the same way you did and I always thought it was strange that people on t.v. would eat the stuff straight out of the box.

  14. Brigid says:

    Besides the sauce tends to leak out of the bottom corners (ex. chicken lo mein). Unfortunately in my neighborhood they seem to be phasing out boxes in favor of plastic containers. What a shame, makes me rethink take-out altogether because of the overuse of plastic.
    Have a good weekend.

  15. Yes, yes, I think it’s bizarre but facinating! (Novelty has not yet worn off). Sadly, I’ve never even had Chinese food delivered in those cute little takeout boxes — always in ugly flat aluminum containers. In fact, the default containers are SO ugly, we have to put the food on plates.

  16. Lynn says:

    The first time I saw people eating out of Chinese Take Out containers was in The Lost Boys. I thought it was really cool, because, the Chinese restaurant we ordered from never used those containers, and I just thought it was really cool to eat dinner directly out of the container (particularly when using chop sticks). Now, the Chinese restaurant we order from where we live now uses those containers. Typically, DH and I don’t like what the other has ordered, so there’s no issue with sharing. I must admit, that the only thing I end up eating directly out of the container is Shrimp Fried Rice, and, unfortunately, I don’t have the talent to eat that with anything but a soup spoon.

  17. katie says:

    when im overly lazy i do. but my family also put the food on plates. recently friends and i got chinese (here at college) and we even put it on plates. i did, however, snack on it out of the box the next day. it had congealed a bit though, so it was relatively easy to eat

  18. Anonymous says:

    Ah, the TV/Movie Chinese Takeout Box. This is along the lines of the TV/Movie Shopping Bag that contains a carefully placed baguette and carrots complete with green tops and the Empty Paper Coffee Cup (and the closely related Empty Suitcase). Would it kill them to at least put some water in the cup? It’s so obvious when the character is carrying around an empty cup but trying to “act” like it’s full.
    I’ve never eaten Chinese takeout directly out of the box. I’d eat the leftovers out of the box if I could microwave it – but there’s that metal handle.

  19. Lori says:

    That last comment was from me – forgot to leave my name…

  20. Collette says:

    If Joe and I bring home Chinese food, it’s plates all the way. If/when there is leftover Orange chicken…it’s cold, directly from the box, usually standing up in the kitchen, trying to get it finished at lunch before Joe gets home and tries to swipe it for dinner. What can I say? At least I have manners in public!

  21. susan says:

    Echoing kai’s comment about props–it occurred to me that the visibility difference between eating from a box and from a plate might come into play. If an actor shoots a scene with a plate full of Chinese food in front of them, and various takes from different points in shooting are then edited together, you could get continuity problems, like a shot of an actor with a half-empty plate, then a countershot, followed by one with their plate three-quarters full. This would be a moot point if the characters are eating out of opaque containers, so behind-the-scenes people wouldn’t have to worry about getting things to match up. Just a thought.

  22. Never have and never will. I always like mine on a plate. ;-)

  23. cherylc says:

    I’ve eaten Chinese or Thai food out of the box, but always under duress, and always by myself. For instance, it’s a quick work lunch (I try to order something that’s not drippy) or it’s leftovers and my child is happy in the next room but who knows for how long and I’m starving. Otherwise, plates are just nicer.

  24. becky says:

    I agree with the posters who are baffled by non-sharers. the first time I ordered Chinese with girls from my dorm, I ordered won tons, because that’s fun to share. Well, I ended up eating nothing but won tons! It was a floor full of non-sharing, eat out of the box-ers! ack!

  25. amy says:

    Never… I always wondered about that too. Remember on Seinfeld they used to always do that.. I thought it was kind of gross myself, unless of course they each ordered their own side. Around here we order a number of things and then scoop to plates.

  26. Jenn says:

    For the most part, I find eating out of the containers bizarre. It’s called a plate people. Use it. Only except is on two occasions, I’ve run into my favorite chinese restaurant and ordered some bbq pork rice and I eat that out of the carton at lunch while I’m running around or at my desk. Most times, I still put the rice in a bowl. My momma raised me to be a classy gal. :-)

  27. Stella says:

    Hi Mariko,
    I’d sign up for you to get your free ipod, but don’t you think it might be a scam? It just sounds too good to be true. And I’d get a whole lot of spam, I’m sure. If you really want an mp3 player, compare the ipod to the Nomad Jukebox Zen. You get more for your money. I bought a refurbished one on ebay and I’m so happy that I can listen to music whenever I want.
    Stella

  28. jodi says:

    ok, this is the ultimate in takeout box eating. this restaurant “the noodle box” serves individual meals (i assume they are not for sharing) i n t h e box. that’s right, if you walk by, you’ll see people at the tables eating directly from the boxes. i wonder if they’re wax coated?
    http://www.oceanisland.com/victoriaguide/cafesandrestaurants.html#noodlebox

  29. Tracey says:

    Hmmm, I’ve always liked those little take-out containers (and never got any, just the ugly styrofoam kind), so I’d probably eat out of them at least once.
    What bothers me is when tv people make hot tea and leave the bag in there while they drink. Ewww!

  30. Mindy says:

    ’round here (NYC/NJ), the only thing that comes in the traditional takeout boxes anymore is the rice. Everything else comes in plastic tupperware-like dishes, generally round ones. At work I usually eat directly out of those, because they’re kinda like bowls already, though at home we do the plate thing.

  31. Stacie says:

    I agree with the above posters that on TV or in the movies it is a continuity issue. There is no worry about how much food is on the plate if the scene is shot over several hours and it allows the editor to cut in parts of different takes. One of the best examples of times when continuity falls apart due food props in in PRETTY WOMAN. The next time you watch, keep an eye on what Julia Roberts is eating and how much is in her hand in the breakfast scene. I think it’s a pancake and in one shot it’s half gone, in the next it hasn’t been biten into yet. :)

  32. Melissa says:

    I have often wondered this myself. Everything I order needs to be poured over rice, so I don’t get eating out of the containers. Unless you don’t like rice? Or unless it IS rice (like fried rice) and that’s all you’re eating.

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