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Apr 29, 2009 04:26 PM

How distinctly American is takeout/delivery?

To those of you who do live/have lived in other countries: I was thinking about all the bad Thai I've ordered recently, and then it occurred to me that, takeout/delivery seems to center on Americanized versions of dishes, be it pizza, Chinese, or whatever.

For instance, when I think of eating Chinese in, I think of Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway in bed digging in to moo choppy gumshoe or whatever in Manhattan (see also this thread: No one's ordering in, I dunno, tripe and jellyfish. As for pizza, if I'm ordering it in, I'm not likely to be getting a pie topped with zucchini blossoms and fresh mozzarella.

So, pardon me for sounding ignorant, but the longest I've lived outside of the States was in Italy for six weeks, and we were doing the trattoria thing on the lira (man I miss the lira) every night of other countries have a takeout *culture* the way we do? And does anyone else notice a correlation here in the US between takeout/delivery and the type of dish ordered? (BTW, I don't think it's just a matter of only ordering what will travel well—plenty of simple un-Americanized dishes that could fill the bill but don't. But maybe others disagree on this point?)

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  1. Delivery of anything, not just bad food, is the norm in Colombia. Guys with cheap Chinese motorcycles deliver for fast food places, drug stores, grocery stores, dry cleaners, and more - on a commission and tip basis. Many people here in Cali have lunch (the main meal) delivered. But it is all American -ish fast food that does not include Chinese. I often have my pharmacy deliver.

    Restaurants, grocery stores, and pharmacies send out rubberized refrigerator magnetic ads with phone numberrs and the like.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      So it's Americanized food even there, not Colombian food? What do you think is the connection?

      1. re: tatamagouche

        There are purely Colombian restaurant deliveries as well; but I think the whole delivery system was initially driven by the combo of Pizza places like Domino's and Geno's, cheap motorcycles and relatively poor people seeing an employment opportunity, and - in the case of supermarkets, that many of the rich previously had their trusted taxista go pick up a phone-in order.

    2. The 'delivery' culture in Argentina is second nature but the difference is that the food is exactly like what you would get in a restaurant but cheaper and brought to your door. Junk food delivery doesn't exist, thank goodness. Even Pizza Hut has had t close down as people are used to proper pizza. When I lived in Mexico, eating out was cheap but delivery was mostly of Americanised food (not sure what it might be like now).

      Here in the UK, we call them takeaways and they are lamentable, although the culture relies heavily on them. You can get fantastic Indian food in most towns if you eat out but order it to takeaway and it turns into a greasy, sub-standard affair. I doubt a Chinese person would go near a Chinese takeaway in the UK. In London you can get good food delivered but elsewhere, it's the usual, super-processed and ultra deep fried suspects so I avoid them like the plague.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Paula76

        I spent a month in BsAs in 2004 and EVERY fast food place delivered. Burger Freaking King delivered. MCDONALD'S delivered.

        Best of all: FREDDO delivered.

        The delivery culture in many countries is far, far more advanced than it is in the US, to answer OP's question.

        1. re: John Manzo

          Yes! Delivery Ice Cream was SO AWESOME during those BA summers . . ..

          1. re: John Manzo

            What I meant to say is that the junk food portion of the takeout market is negligible compared to what most people order which is proper, home cooked meals. Of course, absolutely every place delivers which is a godsend...

            How I miss those scrumptious empanadas...

          2. re: Paula76

            Ah how things have changed in Mexico. As others might expect... food delivered to doors has not been part of the culinary lexicon in Mexico until relatively recently. My dad would tell me stories of late 1950's Mexico City when they first moved they from Jalisco... the city's population & industrial base was increasing much faster than services & infrastructure as such many neighborhoods had no restaurants, cafes or even grocery stores. In those times... factories were being placed squat in the middle of rural farmlands on the outskirts of town.. attracted by the droves of cheap laborers moving from the countryside... and according to him... what a sight at lunch. Hundreds of wives & kids would descend on the the factory grounds loaded with little clay pots & serving dishes, baskets of steaming tortillas... and they would set up full on, multi course Comidas... Garnachas, Sopa Seca, Guisos, Frijoles, Tortillas, Frutas en Almibar... brewed Cinammon tea with Piquete on cold days... truly Al Fresco dining on the spot.

            As the 60's came around and infrastructure caught up... Subway & Public transportation in place... lots of Fondas sprouting up all over the place... the onsite banquets where traded for either dining out or traveling back home to eat with the family.

            Delivery really became popular in the 1980's with the Domino's onslaught... and the greater Americanization of the office workday with some of the lower level office workers having shorter & shorter lunch breaks.... today you will find Sushi.. okay lets be honest... California Rolls etc., delivered to offices and sold by street vendors.. and increasingly (in conjunction with the increasing waist bands) delivery of diet regimen meals.

          3. Takeout, or "para llevar" is increasingly easy in Mexico. Sam has me weeping as to delivery, which is increasingly available, also, on the same little motorcycles, in a plastic crate attached with bungy cords behind the seat. The ambulance I donated is too often the first responder to delivery guys who did nothing wrong but hurry.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Veggo

              Plus never having driven a motor vehicle previously.

              1. re: Veggo

                Some of the para llevar in Oaxaca, where I have spent a fair amount of time, is very, very good! Interestingly enough, one of our favorite little neighborhood restaurants (whose chef used to be an executive chef in one of the bigger hotels in Acapulco) used to do a booming para llevar restaurant consisting almost solely of sides! Like arroz and frijoles.

              2. Take away/delivery is pretty much a standard here. We can have anything from pizza to Indian, to Aussie-Chinese to "authentic" Asian to pasta. Our local pizza joint also does a mean Asian noodle (char kwey tao, Nasi Goreng.. all pretty authentic). The pharmacy delivers, the dry cleaner USED to, as did the dairy.

                1 Reply
                1. re: purple goddess

                  In NYC, most low- to mid-price restaurants deliver, too - so whatever they serve, you can have delivered; whether your delivery is "Americanized" depends on where it comes from. Delivery is much more limited in other US cities I'm familiar with, though there are some third-party services that have a roster of restaurants they'll collect and deliver food from (these usually charge a fee *and* add a premium to menu prices for the service, however).

                2. Delivery is very common in Chengdu, China. Tripe is very much on the bill. There are things you wouldn't have delivered, like, I don't know, 'sizzling plate' dishes, but most homestyle foods travel well. Lots of people get lunches delivered to their work place, or get big dinners delivered to their homes. My favourite barbecue place has the boss on his cellphone half the time taking orders to be delivered, even though their delivery charge is astronomical by local standards.