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Food Smuggling

My wife and I went out the other night for some pho at our local casino. We are regulars so after the confirming wink, the waitress put our order in as soon as we walked in. She brought the meal, a shrimp based pho for my wife, and a beef stew for me, both with no cilantro and with the bean sprouts lightly steamed on the side. And an empty side dish for my wife's smuggled kimchi.
This is routine for us and I normally don't even think about it anymore since all the places we dine out at turn a blind eye on her smuggled kimchi.
What made me think about it this time was the group of patrons who sat at the next table and wanted to order the "red salad" at the next (our) table. The waitress handled it very well with a small giggle and explained that my wife was allowed to bring in a dish for "health" reasons.

So, does any one else "smuggle" must have foods, condiments, etc, into their eating spots, or are we alone in this?

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  1. I rarely go anywhere without a sample-sized bottle of Marie Sharp's Very Hot Habanero sauce tucked into my purse, just in case I'm faced with an unbearably bland meal.

    1. I've smuggled in tabasco sauce in my purse. I like it on pizza, sometimes red sauce pasta.

      1. I have a small Perfex pepper mill. It fits in my purse and has good Tellicherry pepper in it. When I had to stay in the hospital after some surgery I insisted my DH bring it to me. So much institutional pepper is dreadful and even when a restaurant has those ridiculous mills they offer to pepper your food with, it still is not very good pepper.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Candy

          I like white barbeque sauce with my ribs. I basically cannot enjoy them without it. So I always take a small container of it with me anytime I am going to have ribs. I have never found this to be a problem. The waiters usually ask about it and how I make it, but I have never been asked to put it away. After all I am ordering all of my meal from them, just adding a condiment that they do not offer.

        2. I usually can be found with a small bottle of crystal hot sauce with me.

          1. "So, does any one else "smuggle" must have foods, condiments, etc, into their eating spots, "

            no. i don't. i've worked in restaurants all my adult life, and the revelations on here about this astound me.

            17 Replies
            1. re: hotoynoodle

              Me too. I worked at a restaurant once that got shut down for a week for allowing a mom to bring cheerios in for her kid. I would never ask a place I liked to look the other way and jeopardize their business.

              1. re: mojoeater

                I'm really sorry... why did they shut down? I guess more specifically, who made them shut down?

                1. re: AnneBird

                  The Health Department. It is a very big infraction to have outside food or drink. Everything must go from one licensed food handler (meat purveyor, bakery, dry goods provider, etc.) to another. Anything brought in by a customer is illegal. This is a very common law in most municipalities.

                  1. re: mojoeater

                    Wine does not count? What about bringing own wedding cake or b-day cake to a celebration (with permission of management)? I have done this on many occassions-if the management permits are they flouting the law? This is very interesting.

                    1. re: Densible

                      husband brings a jalapeno or two along when we are in mexico which he
                      slices w/his leatherman and adds to what have you. He likes everything hot. Interesting how most of the clandestine-ness has to do w/pepper, hot sauce etc...

                      1. re: Densible

                        there was a recent "bring-your-own-cake" thread here, for which i'm too tired to search.

                        serving food from another source is against health codes. period. if it's contaminated, yet served by the restaurant, they are now responsible. most places do it out of courtesy, knowing bad cake is much less likely than bad shrimp. in short, yes, technically, they are flouting the law. just wait till somebody gets e-coli, though.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          Seems a little extreme to me, and not all health codes are fool proof, or followed by restaurants as you should already know being in the business. You don't see employees reporting violations on a large scale, and I know as well as everyone else here that is privy to kitchen operations that health code violations are made almost everyday in most busy kitchens.
                          As far as someone getting e-coli, our own FDA, local health departments, food suppliers and restaurants can't save us there. I trust a homemade cake more than any commercial product.

                          1. re: Infomaniac

                            Yes. But none of that would be of much defense if you were defending yourself against a lawsuit.

                        2. re: Densible

                          i know in canada the establishment has to get an endorsement on the liquor license for the "bring your own wine" program.

                          don't know about cake- i'll ask my boss tonight if i remember.

                        3. re: mojoeater

                          Wow, that is interesting. What state is this in? Here on the west coast I always see people bring in food items for thier little ones, such as cheerios or another snack to keep them entertained/quiet. Also, an outside cake is very common as well.

                          1. re: justagthing

                            Both San Diego and San Francisco County have some of the most complex and restrictive, but workable, health code regulations in the nation. Unfortunately, the State of California has now gotten into the picture and is putting into place a bunch of rules and regs. that will override County rules and regs. I've got to go to a 5 hour training session this coming Wednesday to learn all about the new policies.

                            Hotoynoodle is right that a restaurant that allows outside food to be served exposes itself to liability complaints if the outside food is contaminated... and a growing amount of the food chain is, indeed, contaminated. Same for allowing clients/guest to take home left over food from a catering function.

                            While most of the rules and regs are designed to protect the consumer, like a lot of government policy and procedure, they go overboard to the absurd. Most health departments are more concerned with time, temperature, storage and potential contamination than they are cakes from Costco.

                            1. re: justagthing

                              Yes, it is common everywhere. It is also against health codes pretty much everywhere. Most restaurants will look the other way when you bring kiddie foods, and many will try to accomodate a cake with prior notice. But if there is a health inspector on premises who takes the codes seriously, that restaurant can be cited and even closed temporarily.

                              1. re: mojoeater

                                Wow, that is kinda sad b/c the at-fault person would be the customers. Sad that the restaurants would be penalized for what their patrons bring in. To me it would seem hard to regulate as an owner and to not offend the patron. Makes me think of the perfume post in a way.

                                1. re: justagthing

                                  I think it's safe to say that this is not a universal law. Where I work, we let people bring in whatever they want -- food for kids, treats from their gardens for the staff to try, wine... when my dad comes to eat, he even brings a pre-mixed gin and tonic (we don't serve hard liquor). I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be so lax about it if it were illegal.

                                  1. re: ctscorp

                                    I'd be curious as to what city and state.

                        4. re: mojoeater

                          That's ridiculous to say that because of someone bringing in cheerios the restaurant had to close for a week. Cheerios are made of Whole Grain Oats, Modified Corn Starch, Corn Starch, Sugar, Salt and a few more additives. Pretty sure no where in the list of ingrediants does it say anthrax. What would you be charged with as you say below that it is illegal, Cheerio smuggling in the first degree?

                          1. re: rookcook1

                            Illegal as in against health codes, not illegal as in police action. Any food that is brought in by an unlicensed provider (ie: the customer) is verboten in most places. In the specific Cheerios case, the health inspector was being incredibly stringent and everyone was shocked. But it was perfectly within his rights to cite the restaurant for allowing outside food. It happened, whether we agreed with it or not.

                      2. I always have a bag of Maldon sea salt in my purse... but I keep leaving it in restaurants & on planes - getting to be an expensive habit. I can just imagine what the clearers think when they find a small bag of white stuff... ;-)

                        1. I think it is ok to bring your favorite hard to find hot sauce with you, but side dishes, bbq sauce, and some of the other things I have read here are not something I would ever do.

                          1. I don't smuggle in any food items, but I always have a few bendy straws tucked away in my purse. I hate drinking soda without a straw and I prefer bendy straws the best. Since most restaurants don't provide bendy straws, I bring my own with me.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: HannahEats

                              Yup that I admit to as well. They go everywhere with me...

                            2. We always smuggle Gates BBQ Sauce into Arthur Bryants!

                              1. Just curious, what 'level' of establishment are we talking here? I'm assuming no one would dare take anything but a healthy appetite into the French Laundry, but what about other, nicer places, where do you "smugglers" draw the line, or is there one?

                                1. I take my mom out to lunch every Saturday- same day, same time, same place! She enjoys a cocktail with her lunch. The restaurant we go to ( they know us well) recently changed their brand of ginger ale. And whatever kind they now use, my mom hates! i stopped by during the week, and asked the bartender if it would be ok if I brought the kind of ginger ale she liked. No problem- he asked that I bring an sealed can or bottle, and that I could not bring any remaining home with me. Sounded fine to me- no my mom can enjoy her lunches, and I made sure to ask before we brought it in. Everybody's happy!

                                  1. when jfood first saw this topic he thought it was about people bringing cheese and chocolate from europe. thump!!

                                    after reading these responses jfood almost fell off the couch. people bring stuff to restos? OMG who da thunk it? do people sneak the stuff onto the food? do they take the plate and bring it to the side to add the "secret ingredient"? Do they ask permission?

                                    In thinking rationally about it, it someone really likes something extra spicy and they clear with the server/host/chef jfood guesses it OK but just does not feel right in the belly. If it's done without the knowledge of the resto, it seems wrong.

                                    1. I've never smuggled anything into anywhere. I enjoy the experience of trying out different places, and it seems like it would defeat the purpose if I added the same bottle of sauce to everything, which would make the varying dishes taste a little bit more alike.
                                      But I think that, in the OP's case, where you're a regular and enjoy the food, but they don't have that one thing you'd like to accompany your regular dish, it seems reasonable enough to bring your own.
                                      But still, it seems to be a bit of a hassle to me to tote food around.

                                      1. I bring mints when I go to Thai, Indian, Malaysian, etc, restaurants in case I need to combat the spiciness.

                                        And straws, of course.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: piccola

                                          I used to be allergic to wheat... a key ingredient in soy sauce, so I used to have a little bottle of wheat free tamari that I carted with me whenever I ate Chinese or sushi.

                                        2. A friend of mine brings his own Vermont maple syrup to restaurants. Almost all breakfast places, even decent ones, can't afford to serve really good maple syrup. He buys the little gift bottles. Breakfast places are by nature more casual though...

                                          I think there should be exceptions in the health codes for toddler food (and cakes). Or "family restaurants" should have options available like simple cereals.

                                          I do remember that when I was a kid my parents would order white rice with milk and sugar for us picky kids at Chinese places. It wasn't very good. Or plain pasta. Yuck.

                                          1. Another thread reminded me of this one--a case of de facto sanctioned smuggling. Outside each of the Pollo Campero chain restaurants in Guatemala are one or more women selling fresh home made tortillas to entering clients. PC doesn't offer them. Most clients need them to be satisfied with a PC meal. I could only eat there because of the tortillas (and the chicken salads inside).

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              my MIL always bring soda with her - a can either in her purse or a small cooler- most places don't serve caffiene free diet soda.

                                              1. re: natpep13

                                                I can def. understand bringing in something as small as a special hot sauce, or specific pepper, but a small cooler, to transport soda? I would ask the person to leave if they strolled in with a small cooler. Thats just if I owned the restaurant.

                                            2. Where it is realy insensitive is not offering sugar free syrup. I have a friend who is severely diabetic. A restaurant she and her husbnd used to frequent took her to task for bringing in her own sugar free maple syrup. The restaurant did not offer it and they no longer go there.

                                              1. OK, I want to ask about the whole Cheerios thing... I'm sure we did this, along with baby jar food. Otherwise, what do I feed my baby when she was 6 months to 12 months? Many restaurants don't have cereal, like ethnic or high end dinner only restaurants. I'm not challenging the law, but just wondering what parents are expected to do to help comply with the law - other than come when their baby is full. I don't have this problem anymore (and hopefully never again), but my SIL has a 7 month old (and the family eats out with us a lot). I've never seen a restaurant worker say anything to parents before though.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: boltnut55

                                                  Without reiterating everything that was said: TECHNICALLY (not practically), no outside food of any sort is allowed. In PRACTICE, most restaurants look the other way. In the case I mentioned above, an over-zealous health inspector punished the restaurant for allowing it. If you want to go by the book, so to speak, feed the children before bringing them out. If you want your child to dine at the same time as you, you can always call the restaurant first and see what they might have to offer an infant. Most, even ethnic, will have rice or pasta or something for them.