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The secret of the Chinese takeout container
November 17, 2013 10:30 AM   Subscribe

No plate? No worries!

And an NYT history of the Chinese takout box.
posted by DoubleLune (56 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not clear from the article - is the box being used as a plate just an added bonus someone noticed recently, or was that always the intention? I'm kind of sensing it was the former.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:40 AM on November 17, 2013


Ooooh! I'm gutted that I can't show this knowledge off to anyone, cos our Chinese takeaway boxes are just plastic Tupperware-type one. One of the joys of visiting the US is getting "proper" Chinese boxes like what are in the films. Next chance I get I'm going to blow someone's mind with this, I thank you!
posted by billiebee at 10:41 AM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


This has been going around. It makes me wonder if people actually have tried it.

First, Chinese food containers have a hard-to-remove metal handle that goes through multiple layers of cardboard. Even ripping this out so you can recycle the container afterward is fairly hard. Doing it it while the container is filled with hot food is not easy at all - you're pretty well certain to mutilate the container.

Second, what good is a plate with no structural strength - a plate that will dump food all over your lap if you try to eat while watching TV?

Finally, if you press down with a chopstick on the edges while eating, they bounce back up - sprinkling rice all over.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:41 AM on November 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


Yeah, this is bizarre. What is it people are doing that eating out of what is essentially a bowl--or pouring its contents onto an ordinary plate--is so hard? And why is the fact that a folded piece of cardboard can be unfolded into a flat piece of cardboard evidence that it is intended to be used as a plate?
posted by pdq at 10:43 AM on November 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


The authentic Chinese music really complements the authentic Chinese food and elegant Chinese dinnerware.

I'm about 50/50 on boxes with metal handles. They're a huge bummer if you're trying to reheat something in the microwave.
posted by Nelson at 10:45 AM on November 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Not clear from the article - is the box being used as a plate just an added bonus someone noticed recently, or was that always the intention?

Those pails were used for selling oysters before being used by Chinese restaurants, so I'd think not.

(Also, they're one of those things we people from outside America only see in movies)
posted by sukeban at 10:48 AM on November 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


As someone who's always lived in the US movie scenes of people sitting around eating out of takeout boxes with chopsticks was also weirdly foreign to me. My local Chinese food place never sent chopsticks, I'm not sure if they even stocked them. We also put the food on our own plates. I thought this whole image was just a made-up Hollywood thing. It seemed a little silly to pretend to be authentic while eating made-up American food.
posted by bleep at 10:55 AM on November 17, 2013


Even ripping this out so you can recycle the container afterward is fairly hard.

Stick the point of a butter knife into the little loop of wire, twist slightly to open the loop a little, and you should be able to slide the handle right out. Repeat for opposite side.
posted by aught at 11:01 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see no reason why anyone would want to mutilate a perfectly good bowl into a clearly inferior plate.
posted by yeolcoatl at 11:02 AM on November 17, 2013 [18 favorites]


I have heard that having characters eating out of the containers makes it much easier for the folks in charge of continuity in movies/tv. No need to check if the Pad Thai/Moo Go Gai Pan levels are the same as the last take.
posted by vespabelle at 11:03 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I prefer to compound my laziness of not making my own food by never, ever doing this.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:08 AM on November 17, 2013


Those were some pretty dry noodles in that video. I can't imagine a disassembled box holding back anything with even a modicum of sauce.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:08 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could see this being useful if you were serving a lot of food communally, like in a family meal type situation. But not to eat off of, especially since you're rarely just eating one take-out container; you almost always have a separate one for the rice.

I have a brocade purse in the shape of a takeout box and I love it. It is clever, barely fancy enough to take out (though less so now as it's getting ratty, I've had it for about a decade) and just the right size for a spare maxi pad, a cell phone, an iPod and lippy.
posted by NoraReed at 11:09 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is just a consequence of the containers being stamped or cut out of a single flat piece of cardboard in manufacturing. Same with the "ketchup cups unfold into little bowls" thing that was floating around a few years back.
posted by Wulfhere at 11:10 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rats.

Ah well, on the bright side, I can now safely share this little bit of "did you know?" and see the wonder in everyone's eyes, without them ever being able to prove me wrong. Result!
posted by billiebee at 11:10 AM on November 17, 2013


Why must I now minmax eating Chinese takeout food? I am already minmaxing folding my shirts, tying shoes and most recently eating apples. How exhausting!
posted by Joe Chip at 11:16 AM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Made me hungry for Lo Mein though
posted by edgeways at 11:17 AM on November 17, 2013


I recently found out that taking delivery food out of its contain and arranging things properly on a plate and then serving said plate on a dining table makes me unusual as most people are content to eat it out of the delivery container.

To which I saw you're all barbarians.
posted by The Whelk at 11:17 AM on November 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


My local Chinese food place never sent chopsticks, I'm not sure if they even stocked them.

Do they have plastic utensils instead? Otherwise if you took your take-out to somewhere you don't have your own utensils, like to an office or on a picnic or something, you'd be up the creek without chopsticks.
posted by XMLicious at 11:18 AM on November 17, 2013


Chopsticks make terrible paddles.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:26 AM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


...and if you don’t finish your food in one sitting, it folds right back up and tucks into itself, ready to store back in the fridge for your future face-stuffing.

NOOOO because then there is food in the FRIDGE which has your GROSS MOUTH JUICES on it, when fridge food should be potentially shareable with anyone.
posted by jcreigh at 11:27 AM on November 17, 2013


Whether you unfold them or not, they're certainly preferable to those horrible styrofoam clamshell things.
posted by islander at 11:47 AM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


then there is food in the FRIDGE which has your GROSS MOUTH JUICES on it, when fridge food should be potentially shareable with anyone.

You are totally getting that backwards. Food? Shareable? Are you mad?
*licks serving spoon*
posted by billiebee at 12:03 PM on November 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


Anybody who's enough of a smartass to try to break a takeout Chinese food container down into a plate deserves the lapful of brown liquid that they will most certainly get.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 12:09 PM on November 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm about 50/50 on boxes with metal handles. They're a huge bummer if you're trying to reheat something in the microwave.

You can easily remove the handles before microwaving. The box still holds together. They work better than the glued boxes that often tear when you unfold them

This post stuns me. Did people actually NOT know you can unfold these boxes? And even more astonishing in the Foodbeast page, did people really not know you can unfold ketchup cups? What the hell did they think all that excess paper was for?
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:20 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just don't understand-- usually if I'm eating out of the box, the point is to shovel as much eggplant or noodles into my face as possible, in the least civil way imaginable. Why would I would to put my lap at risk of noodly goodness?
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:34 PM on November 17, 2013


I'm kind of amazed at the number of people who, when presented with a plate, are immediately really concerned about whether or not it can go on their lap.
posted by Shepherd at 12:38 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Chinese food is best eaten on the living room couch, with friends over, watching crazy stuff on YouTube. I think that's where the implicit assumption, that this will be in a lap, comes from.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 12:42 PM on November 17, 2013


billiebee: Ooooh! I'm gutted that I can't show this knowledge off to anyone, cos our Chinese takeaway boxes are just plastic Tupperware-type one.

And they're AWESOME! Well, at least ours are. We use them instead of just about any other tupperware containers we have purchased over the years, as they're just the right size for so many things, and they close fairly securely. They're designed to stack nicely, too, so you can get a tower of 5 containers and they're fairly stable, compared to the "traditional" waxy cardstock boxes featured in the video.


yeolcoatl: I see no reason why anyone would want to mutilate a perfectly good bowl into a clearly inferior plate.

Exactly. That slippery pile of noodles doesn't seem to sit well on the waxy "plate," especially when the box is really full. The video seemed like the much-mocked "inept people" informercials. Chopsticks and take-out boxes work very well for their intended purposes, if used properly and with a modicum of skill.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:51 PM on November 17, 2013


Wait, can we get back to the shoe tying business? There's a more efficient way to do that now?
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:53 PM on November 17, 2013


Yes, buy flip flops.
posted by arcticseal at 1:04 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


You use chopsticks to eat food out of a bowl. When my Chinese Mom serves plates of fried rice, each person gets a fork.
posted by praiseb at 1:05 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unfolding the container really doesn't address this gentleman's larger problem, which seems to be getting the food from its starting place into his mouth. There's no reason this should be any easier for him, and since he can't even manage to dump it directly into his face now I wonder if he even understands how eating works.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:07 PM on November 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


Joe in Australia, you are in for a treat! Ian's Shoelace Site.
posted by emjaybee at 1:35 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


NOOOO because then there is food in the FRIDGE which has your GROSS MOUTH JUICES on it

Not if you eat it with chopsitcks. Well, not if you eat it with chopsticks properly, at any rate.
posted by baf at 1:38 PM on November 17, 2013


I kind of love these discussions where people are all "You do wha? That's not how I do it! Your way is gross and wrong and here is why!" because it's always things that utterly unimportant, like how you eat Chinese food/load a dishwasher/tie shoes.

You can all feel free to hate me when I tell you that, as a family, we all eat on the couch with a coffee table or TV tray, just like Mathilda's horrible parents, because we were all bored stupid when we tried sitting around a table "making conversation." Whereas watching Power Rangers or Pacific Rim together while eating provides a rich vein of commentary and conversation on topics such as magic powers, plot errors, the physics of actually trying to work a giant robot that way, etc. etc.

I felt guilty about this for a while, until I realized that when I was single/married prior to kid, one of the delights of my life was being able to watch TV/read while eating dinner without someone bitching at me about it. I love it. My husband loves it. My kid loves it too. Why do we care what a bunch of Nosy Parkers think about what's good for our family?

We eat Chinese out of the boxes it came in, because why dirty more dishes than you must? The plate thing looks unwieldy to me.
posted by emjaybee at 1:44 PM on November 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


Joe in Australia: "Wait, can we get back to the shoe tying business? There's a more efficient way to do that now?"

If you've been unknowingly making a granny knot with your shoelaces, making a square knot instead will be revolutionary.
posted by Copronymus at 2:18 PM on November 17, 2013


It's a box and that's the end of it. Of course, it's a "life hack" and what kind of cool hip kid doesn't use "life hacks"? We can't be mistaken for all the boring old geezers who have been doing everything the conventional way. I should make a "life hack" of wiping one's ass with Doritos and see how long it is before discussions break out about whether using Sweet Chili is for pros and only noobs use Cool Ranch. For those who have had enough of these shitty "life hacks", a subreddit is trying to get off the ground. (inspired by this post)

So we've got this and we had the Cracked superhero article a few days ago. I can't wait for the FPP on Buzzfeed's "17 Things You Love About Barry Bostwick (But Didn't Know It)".
posted by Tanizaki at 2:20 PM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


...and if you don’t finish your food in one sitting, it folds right back up and tucks into itself, ready to store back in the fridge for your future face-stuffing

NOOOoooo... that container is for transportation, not storage! Paper-folded take-out containers are not airtight.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:46 PM on November 17, 2013


The way the guy can't feed himself, yet states into the camera at the end is damn creepy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:05 PM on November 17, 2013


I am so confused by people who take take out out of the container to eat it off a real plate. The whole point of takeout is that someone else has done the food prep and the post food prep clean up FOR YOU. Why are you dirtying dishes now?
posted by elizardbits at 3:25 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because we have both standards and a dishwasher.
posted by The Whelk at 3:27 PM on November 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


The way the guy can't feed himself, yet stares into the camera at the end is damn creepy.

To this point, he also does the classic gaijin/laowai head tilt when eating with chopsticks. Dead giveaway.

"Food that comes in a box - who can figure it out? You've tried putting it on a plate *boing*, digging in with all four hands at once *muted trombone*, eating directly out of the box *record scratch*, and dumping it all into your mouth at once *screeching tires and crash*. Nothing seems to work!"
posted by Tanizaki at 3:31 PM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


you just like to pretend you made it yourself, you giant faker
posted by elizardbits at 3:32 PM on November 17, 2013


Yeah, between this and the apple-eating one (Same people I assume? They both said "like a boss" and did the montage of incompetence at the beginning to pretend like eating out of a box is hard.) I'm starting to tip into get-off-my-lawn with this shit.

Is it that hard for you to eat out of a box? Check this shit out: the top of the box is wider than the bottom. Why do they bother to do that? If you aren't supposed to leave it as a box, why wouldn't they just leave is as a regular box shape that's straight up and down? Because making it wider at the top makes it easier to grab things out of, that's why. Life hack.

You ever have trouble grabbing something with chopsticks? Here's a little life hack for you, push it against the side of the container, unless you've completely flattened the container for some dumb reason.

Does your food get cold too fast while eating it? You should keep it in something that reduces the exposure to air, instead of piling it on top of some flat cardboard. Life hack.

Are you working in a food container factory and need to build something that's cheap and unlikely to leak? Make a box by folding a single piece of cardboard. Life hack.
posted by RobotHero at 3:32 PM on November 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


Because we have both standards and a dishwasher.

I too have a dishwasher; his name is Bulgaroktonos. No standards, though!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:32 PM on November 17, 2013


you giant faker

Try my delicious steamed hams.
posted by The Whelk at 3:36 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Okay, I was just making shit up and I realized after, maybe the boxes are just wider at the top because they stack easier, not because it helps you grab stuff with chopsticks.

Also I just watched this, 30 Life Hacks Debunked though I feel for science's sake he should have put two beers in the freezer and wrapped only one in wet paper towel. I hadn't even heard half of these. Wooden spoon on boiling pot? What, why?
posted by RobotHero at 3:45 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the point was supposed to be that the spoon breaks the surface tension of the foam and makes it die back down. But...yeah, no.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:21 PM on November 17, 2013


I think my favorite "life hack" is Doritos as kindling. This is good for those times when you are in the woods and there are no sticks or twigs but you have a bag of Doritos.
posted by Tanizaki at 4:28 PM on November 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


that video was simultaneously informative and really really annoying, reinforcing my decision to cancel my MF subscription about a year ago.
posted by edgeways at 4:42 PM on November 17, 2013


I'm surprised that the racist intro music hasn't bothered anybody.
posted by Renoroc at 5:19 PM on November 17, 2013


They skipped taking off the metal handle. You can't tell me those are designed to unfold like that when it requires needle nose pliers to remove the fastener.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:33 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


We tried boxes with metal hooks, and they work even better than the boxes that were  held together with some sort of adhesive.

I guess they address that. Oddly, I once wrote a workflow system for a company that did high end publicity material including various types of boxes and folders. I spend several days talking to a rep about boxes. In order to make them as cheaply as possible they are die cut, in one piece from a much larger sheet, then folded. Considerable though goes into the design and optimal cutting strategy. When you order a second run, they pull your die off the shelf and just cut and fold more. I would not be surprised if every box you find could not be unfolded in this way.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:51 PM on November 17, 2013


To me this seems to be sort of like the opposite of the "consequence" of the fact that the flat piece of cardboard design is elegant - single-piece, nice and watertight when you fold it up onto a square bowl shape, and fits into a bag easily with other containers, ultimately fitting nicely into cheaper paper bags whereas styrofoam-dependent restaurants tend to use beer boxes and such. In my experience the more expensive restaurants tend to use the styrofoam quite a bit more for entrees but will still use the box/bowl containers for certain things like rice.

So then some dude unfolds it and is like "whoa, it's all one piece that's flat..." Like opening a dryer by tearing the box down from each corner and being like "whoa, this box has a built in floor protection mechanism for sliding the dryer across the floor a certain distance!"

From a practical standpoint, this would work well with larger containers and smaller portions inside, but typically you get efficiently packed varying-size containers. Most dishes involve rice which ends up in a larger container if multiple people order, and logistically that would seem to be a pain in the ass using this "hack" without the presence of at least one extra box.

So take that!

But I was excited when I discovered the ketchup thing at the age of 8 or whatever (ketchup hipster here, I was an early aficionado) and then realized it was just a nice way of making a mess and would just dump it out on my folded-out burger-paper from the cup instead.
posted by lordaych at 8:56 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can't tell me those are designed to unfold like that when it requires needle nose pliers to remove the fastener.

Not really. See my earlier comment. I can't say I lifehacked removal of the metal handle wires back in the day, because I admit I never posted smugly to the internets about it. (Mainly because the internets didn't exist yet.)

I actually figured this out not to do the springy paper plate thing, which I also heard about a long time ago but which seemed like a bad idea, but rather to make the quick-rinse and recycling of paper take-out boxes (particularly the rice containers which don't get stained at all) easier, and also so that leftover rice can be microwaved the next day right in the paper box.

It's moot now because the closest Chinese place to where we live now packages food in foil tray containers with plastic lids.

Now I want Chinese food for lunch.
posted by aught at 9:06 AM on November 18, 2013


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