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Chinese take out

I worked in one for quite a while until they changed hands and my boss, who ended up being a good friend , sold the business, which was a real bummer

If anyone wants to know how a chinese takeout works I can probably answer it

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  1. <cynic> what leftovers get recycled and how? (sorry)

    1 Reply
    1. re: hill food

      actually nothing from what I could see when i was there-maybe the fry oil

    2. Is there an official agreement (perhaps an association) to have identical menu items in practically the same order?

      I've heard that the pork has to be dyed a certain color. True or false?

      How are the sauces made? I'd guess that there's one big starting pot that contains the base and then a few smaller ones that mixes the base with some flavors here and there.

      What % of items would you say were actually "made in house?" I'm thinking 0% and that everything came in packages.

      6 Replies
      1. re: ediblover

        the sauces were made in big buckets-brown sauce and general tso's sauce were made from scratch (but pretty sure it was like you said - adding some spice to the brown sauce base)

        noodles were no made from scratch, there was red dye in the pork yep

        1. re: madeliner

          brown sauce and tso sauce recipe please or at least ingredients used

          1. re: madeliner

            So, is there a "brown sauce base" that most take-out places use? If so, that's not really making the sauce from scratch - it's just "jazzing up" a commercially-purchased ingredient, isn't it?

            1. re: JimboWoodside

              I would be very surprised if the brown sauce was not made from scratch, as a basic sauce is very easy and a commercial base would probably be expensive, relatively speaking. Fry garlic, ginger, add some soy sauce, oyster sauce, canned chicken stock, thicken with cornstarch.

              1. re: sbp

                Unlike a lot of Chowhounds, I like the brown sauce that comes from neighborhood Chinese-American takeout places - at some restaurants the sauces are better than at others, though.

                I like to cook, especially making sauteed vegetables in oil & garlic, and I've tried making my own brown sauce - I've made some very tasty ones using a lot of Chinese market condiments, but I've never been able to get that "just-right" combination, despite many tries. I've got a lot of ingredients, but getting them to fit together in the proper proportions is an elusive task!

                1. re: sbp

                  Oops, forgot Xiaoshing wine.

          2. Ok, you just cornered yourself.

            In another thread, there is a discussion concerning Crab Rangoons. It would be nice to see a Chinese Takeout worker to finally admit:

            1. Rangoons are NOT Chinese and
            2. There is NO crab in Crab Rangoons

            ;-)

            8 Replies
            1. re: PotatoHouse

              rangoons can't be chinese they contain dairy (cream cheese) that most chinese detest and the seafood is sea legs-at least where I worked

              1. re: PotatoHouse

                ...and there's no lobster in lobster sauce.

                1. re: CindyJ

                  There is when you order Lobster Cantonese....:0)

                2. re: PotatoHouse

                  Why would you expect something named Rangoon to be Chinese? Rangoon was the former capital of Myanmar (Burma) back in the day.

                  1. re: LRunkle

                    Thanks for the geographical light slap in the face! (no, really)

                  2. re: PotatoHouse

                    I'm surprised that you even thought that there was any doubt that Crab Rangoons were NOT Chinese food.

                    1. re: huiray

                      No doubt, I just wanted a confession.

                    2. re: PotatoHouse

                      Depend on the place. I know of at least one takeout near me that actually DOES use actual crab for the rangoons (Ive seen them make them, and they actually open a can of crab meat to make the filling) The results are not anything like the "standard" rangood (the insides are almost solid, for a start) but they do do it.

                      And there actually ARE some legitimate Chinese dishes that contain dairy, though they are rare.

                    3. Is 69 always beef and broccoli on the take out menu or just an old joke?

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Duppie

                        pretty sure they buy the template and throw their business name and number on the top

                        1. re: Duppie

                          I grabbed a menu at random from the bix box of spares I keep for wrapping, and Beef and broccoli is #84 on it (#69 is Moo Goo Gai Pan)

                          1. re: jumpingmonk

                            Back in the day every takeout place on 2'ave in NYC with Wok in it's name had B&B as #69.no they were not a chain.

                            1. re: Axlsgoddess

                              At Trader Vic's (where I worked for a good number of years), it was Chinese mustard powder mixed with water until it had the right consistency. For bonus points (Vic would be proud), use beer or dry white wine in place of some or all of the water. We added a dash of dijon and a dab of honey to ours.

                              1. re: Axlsgoddess

                                I actually worked in a Chinese take out in high school and I had to make the mustard. It contained dry mustard, vinegar, vegetable oil and water. That's it.

                              2. Are all appetizers made in the same warehouse in New Jersey and distributed across the country?

                                1. My questions:

                                  Approximately how many teaspoon of MSG and salt in one common dish (fried rice, chow-mein, stir-fry) ?

                                  What is/are used to create the bright neon color orange/red in sweet sour and other dishes?

                                  Do they use vegetable oil, peanut oil, or lard? In southeast Asia they say to achieve the delicious taste it has to be with lard.

                                  Are the meat sourced from inspected butchers/meat processing plants?

                                  thanks

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: knusprig

                                    they used soybean oil-dont' know about the other questions I only worked there a few hours a week, I know the shrimp was delivered frozen.

                                    1. re: knusprig

                                      They use probaly 1/2 to 1 tsp ratio of salt/sugar/msg per quart size container for meat/vegetable dishes.
                                      Red color in S & S dishes is ketchup.
                                      We used vegetable oil and rendered pork fat.

                                      1. re: smithareeny

                                        Unless I am misunderstanding you, I doubt that even these "Take Out" places use up to 1 teaspoon of MSG per quart size container of meat-veg dishes. I have eaten dishes from such places from time to time and if there were 1 entire teaspoon of MSG in a quart-sized portion of said food I think I would have noticed... But then I probably have not eaten stuff from around your area.

                                        1. re: smithareeny

                                          Red color in take out Sweet and Sour has to be food coloring. The more or less standard "home made" recipe (from Lee's Thousand Recipe book) is (from memory, so this is not meant to be definitive) chicken stock, pineapple juice, vinegar, and ketchup. It comes out pretty much orange, not red.

                                        2. re: knusprig

                                          Oil is usually used for stir-fried dishes. It's easier to use than lard. Corn, peanut, or soybean oil are usually used because they have high smoke points.

                                          The bright color is usually achieved either by the use of a red food coloring or ketchup depending on how it is made.

                                          As for the meats, most restaurants get their supplies from restaurant supply companies that ship directly to the restaurants. The source may be local or not, depending on the availability of the supplies and the preference of the restaurant owners.

                                          There is no single way of doing things. My family and our relatives spent decades in the Chinese restaurants. Everyone had their own approach.

                                          1. re: raytamsgv

                                            My FIL said peanut oil was too expensive and he didn't use it in his restaurants. He only used vegetable (corn or soy). A few of my in laws were in the business and how they ran them were night and day. Different enough that they couldn't talk business w/out getting into arguments.

                                        3. If your really getting pounded do you just throw stuff in the fryer and sauce it in a bowl insteand of doing everything in the wok?

                                          1. The dumplings and eggrolls were actually made by hand where I worked.

                                            Sweet and sour sauce is bought already made.

                                            And yep they did use woks :)

                                            1. I know every place can be different, and it surely may not have been the standard where you worked, BUT -
                                              1. What's with calling a dish "Lo mein," and using ramen noodles? What's with calling a dish chow fun, and using lo mein noodles?"

                                              2. Do the Chinese actually prefer gloppy sauces that turn into jello when cooled off because of far too much cornstarch? Or, do they think Americans really enjoy that?

                                              3. Do the Chinese actually prefer egg drop soup or hot & sour soup that is full of cornstarch as well?
                                              (I really don't care for those joints that serve jello-y, cornstarch laden glop if you couldn't tell.

                                              4. Did the place you worked at have "mu shu" on the menu? If so, did they serve it with flour tortillas instead of the proper pancake? If tortilla, were the chefs ashamed,or was it more of a "The customers will eat anything we slop out to them" situation?

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: gordeaux

                                                The chinese people I worked for didn't eat the food they cooked for 'the customers-they ate vegetables and soups mostly, sometimes some chow fun noodles or a stir fry and always white rice

                                                I guess the place I worked wasn't as bad as all that, they made lo mein with lo mein noodles and chow fun with wide rice noodes, no ramen for anything. They didnt eat egg drop or hot and sour soup either :O

                                                They had mooshu, the pancakes were very thin pancakes they came with a little cup of plum sauce but there was a bit of that attitude in #4-not alot, but definitely some.

                                                1. re: gordeaux

                                                  2. In a broad (but not exclusive) sense, "...they think Americans really enjoy that".
                                                  3. In a general sense, no.

                                                  I once asked the owner-proprietress in one actual sit-down restaurant whose clientele is mostly caucasian American why the sauces were fairly gooey with corn starch and she said that the customers preferred it that way. (Good traditional chinese cooking uses corn starch of course, just not as much)

                                                  1. re: gordeaux

                                                    I think part of it might also be that "lo mein" covers a fairly wide range of dishes; and what noodle you use varies depending on which one you are making. For so called "Hong Kong Style" Lo mein (the kind where you boil the noodles seperately ten put the stuff on top of them and por broth on top of them) Something similar to the ramen noodle is what is normal to use (in fact Hong Kong style lo mein is in many respects the chinese analouge to ramen) And of course most people think the very word ramen comes from "lo mein".

                                                    As for the thikness of the soups I think in some cases, especially for the "fancier" soups, the thickness is associated with it being a richer soup. It's a rare bowl of West Lake or Eight Treasures winter melon I have had that was not so full of cornstarch that you could bounce a quarter off of it. I think part of it may be to make the "suff" in the soup remain suspended throughout it as opposed to all falling down to the bottom.

                                                  2. How much meat is in the so-called "vegetarian" food?

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: piccola

                                                      the tofu is fried in the same oil as the egg rolls and wontons which contain meat, other meats are par-fried there as well-gen tso nuggets mostly.

                                                      All vegetarian dishes include deep fried tofu (which probably makes it good)

                                                      MY best advice after seeing the back room would be to order dishes, including tofu, steamed (with brown sauce or gen tso sauce) on the side, (white sauce is pretty useless) unless you are craving some egg rolls, fried wontons or fried dumplings-ask for dumpling sauce even if you didn't order dumplings-it is tastier than just plain soy sauce (I am sure you all know that)

                                                      If you ask for extra sauce, (which will probably be a pint) you can use it in your own stir fries for a few dishes after your meal

                                                      I am strictly talking about take out places with a few tables-any restaurants that print custom menus most likely have tablecloths and the same exact food

                                                      1. re: madeliner

                                                        I always assume that they're cooked in the same pans as meat -- in all restaurants, not just Chinese ones. While that's not something I would tolerate at home, I realize it's almost inevitable in busy restaurant kitchens.

                                                        I'm more concerned about "vegetarian" soup made with meat stock or dishes cooked in lard or sauces that contain meat or seafood (like dried shrimp in Thai places).

                                                    2. "If anyone wants to know how a chinese takeout works I can probably answer it"

                                                      Yes, please.

                                                      1. So what are some of the good off the menu things to order? Or maybe on the menu ones that I've likely missed through the years? You know, like inside hints!

                                                        1. Did people always tip you for take out? What percent did/did not? How much? Was it usually cash, or added to the credit card?

                                                          1. Restaurants differ according to the owner/manager. Period. Some do things by the book and are just running the restaurant because that is all they know how to do to make a living. Some take lots of pride in their food. Some do things exactly like the other Chinese restaurant they probably worked at before opening their own. Some deviate. All McDonald's might be run the same, but I'm pretty sure all Chinese restaurants aren't. Even growing up, the Chinese restaurant down the block from my parents' ordered different ingredients from even the same supplier, different brands of fortune cookies, pancakes, etc.

                                                            This thread just seems sort of all-encompassing when it's obvious no one can tell exactly how every single Chinese restaurant can work in the entire country, much less an entire town. And some questions are bordering on downright offensive or can be asked of any sort of restaurant.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: yfunk3

                                                              Agreed. Still, the topic of the thread is "Take Out" places, not proper (sit down) restaurants. Y'know, those places that serve largely bastardized/ American-Chinese food to the general public. Many (but certainly not all) of their clientele possibly would not usually be acquainted with or go out to seek "traditional"/"authentic" (that word again) Cantonese or Shanghainese or Szechuanese or Hokkien or Pekingese etc etc cuisine on a regular basis - Chowhounders excluded, of course.

                                                              1. re: huiray

                                                                Agree w/ both above. And funny to see it on CH since it's not about places with good food but generally cheap, food for the masses.

                                                            2. My favorite Chinese place has a section of the take-out menu that's printed in Chinese. What am I missing out on that Chinese-speaking people might be ordering?

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: CindyJ

                                                                Unless you post pictures of the menus, it's impossible to know. They could be identical, or they could be completely different.

                                                                1. re: raytamsgv

                                                                  Merely asking alleviates the impossible.

                                                                  A lot of Chinese restaurants I know of have that or a special menu in Chinese. It's the more "authentic" dishes usually.

                                                                2. re: CindyJ

                                                                  That's like asking what's written in French in a French restaurant. The menu is also constantly changing within one restaurant, too, depending on what ingredients they can get. Just ask.

                                                                3. My childhood best friend's family owned an American-Chinese restaurant (they later added a Vietnamese menu after Vietnamese food became more known to the 'mainstream'-her parents are from Vietnam) and I spent many hours after school and during summers at their restaurant. I also had a few other friends whose families owned restaurants or markets and I got to see how it was in a 'restaurant family.' Hard work, that's for sure.

                                                                  One thing, though. I remember that the big bucket of generic brown sauce at my friend's resto was made with chicken broth. So even the vegetarian dishes had that same sauce. They didn't make a special separate sauce that was truly vegetarian. My BFF's parents had no problem serving this sauce to vegetarians. Nowadays, vegetarianism is much more common and many restos cater to vegetarians much more...I am wondering if in mom and pop take out places there is a special vegetarian bucket of sauce or are average place just using the same brown sauce for all dishes.

                                                                  My best friend's mom made all of their condiments-the mustard and the sweet and sour sauce, too. It was possible to buy these things from suppliers cheaply, but she felt it have their place an edge. Everything was freshly prepped and that took hours. Hours of deveining shrimp, hours of rolling eggrolls. It was such hard work that her mom kept a futon in the store room and took naps there since she spent 14+ hour days there. Yep. Very hard work.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                    Great insight into the subject, Fatima!

                                                                    1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                      That's a nice story. This is the reason why it's unfair to judge "american chinese" restaurants with a broad brush that it must be inferior food. There are restaurants that do it all from scratch, not pre-ordered frozen food. Your BFF's mom deserves a nice lazy retirement!

                                                                    2. People keep saying sauces are thickened with cornstarch, but at my favourite Chinese restaurants the sauce becomes "gummy"/sticky when it cools - and no cornstarch I've ever bought does this. Does anyone know what they might be using - Please don't say cornstarch.
                                                                      Also, I don't think they use fresh shrimp in this part of the country, - but even when I reheat leftovers the shrimp are still tender and juicy - not tough and dry. What could they do to their shrimp to keep them so good even when reheated?

                                                                      7 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Lotti

                                                                        If you're talking about any kind of red sauce, it's probably the huge amounts of sugar.

                                                                        1. re: piccola

                                                                          No, not red sauce and not sweet. It's the sauce on "Assorted Meat & Vegetables Fried Noodles" - a mix of veg, shrimp, chicken, pork, mushrooms, & squid on chow mein noodles. The sauce is light brown and tastes amazing. And when I try to scrap what's left into a take-out container it literally sticks to the plate (having cooled) and stretches like gum. Picture a thin string of gummy sauce stuck between the plate and the spoon 5 inches above. This is definitely not cornstarch but I haven't been able to figure out what it is they are using - and when I ask the waitresses always shrug their shoulders and say they don't know or tell me they think it's cornstarch.

                                                                          1. re: Lotti

                                                                            Perhaps the place you go to also uses tapioca starch or similar as the thickening agent?

                                                                        2. re: Lotti

                                                                          Cornstarch does thicken more when cooled - as for gumminess, that may be a combination of the cornstarch and natual gelatins from the meats. I usually notice regular old cornstarchy thickening.

                                                                          Other than a few places along the Southern coast, my understanding is NO shrimp is fresh. It's frozen at sea. The shrimp you see "fresh" at the fish market is almost invariably just defrosted. As for chinese shrimp's tenderness, a couple of factors: they tend to be marinated in soy/wine/ginger, which has the effect of brining; they may be cooked using a "velveting" technique; and they were probably lightly cooked in the first place.

                                                                          1. re: sbp

                                                                            Really depends where you are. Plenty of fresh shrimp is available in NYC ex the Fulton Fish Market.

                                                                            1. re: scoopG

                                                                              Agreed. A lot of the shrimp in the NYC Chinatows is sold alive, so it pretty much has to be fresh by defintion.

                                                                              1. re: jumpingmonk

                                                                                I will eat at ANY restaurant in NYC or San Fran Chinatown. I ate in both within 5 days once. (Have I mentioned I used to be an Over The Road truck driver?)

                                                                        3. Years and years ago I used to get a dish called Shrimp with Green Peas, which was just that, grilled or maybe boiled shrimp with peas in the most wonderful white translucent, mild and almost sweet (but not sugar-sweet) sauce. It was so good, and I've never seen it since. Have you ever heard of the dish, and what's in it? Cornstarch, I'm sure, but it was more than just chicken broth, I'm almost positive.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: EWSflash

                                                                            I haven't eaten that dish, but if it was a Cantonese dish I'm guessing the shrimp was quickly stir fried, and the peas were added near the end of cooking. Peas and shrimp don't create much of a sauce, so I'm guessing it would be a chicken-based broth with perhaps a little sugar thrown in, light soy sauce, ginger, and perhaps a touch of sesame oil. It may have been thickened a bit with corn starch.

                                                                          2. I would like to know why the chicken is so, so very stringy and gristly unless you get something really bland like Moo Goo Gai Pan where they use breast meat. I love poultry dark meat but the meat from Chinese places is so GREY and so stringy with lots of inedible bits, I don't understand why it's so bad. Would love to know why.

                                                                            If you ask for something without MSG, do they really comply? Or do they put it in anyway, that is, to dishes that have it manually added.

                                                                            1. Hello, American Chinese takeout lover here. First question, did you mention where your restaurant was located?

                                                                              Second question, Chinese takeouts in my native Indiana have a thick egg roll with a blistered crunchy skin. They can contain many things but my favorites are the cheap ones filled with just thinly shredded cabbage and some kind of small red granules. They are too small for me to taste and determine what they are, my best guess is they are the gristly otherwise unsellable bits of char siu pork that are chopped up finely. Can you tell me what these granules really are?

                                                                              Third question. How come General Tso's chicken is always a more expensive "house special", while orange/sesame/tangerine/whatever chicken is a cheaper regular menu item, when they are basically the same thing?

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                                well it's branded (sort of) "Gen. Tso's" is much more enticing than dumb old "Orange"

                                                                                I have often wondered if there is a difference between the two sorta ad-hoc Americanized things.