What makes Chinese food so popular as take-out?
No matter how you define "Chinese food" -- but in this case we're probably talking about Americanized Chinese food -- it seems like along with perhaps pizza, Chinese food is the king of take-out.
Why is that?
Just searching Chowhound one can find numerous threads about Chinese take-out, but rarely one about (for example) Indian, Japanese, Mexican, etc.
Examples of Chinese take-out threads:
yes, I agree that it tends to be a U.S. thing. Also one must think about what is being taken out: very few people order for take-out a whole steamed fish, or peking duck. "Chinese" take-out generally means stir fry.
It is quick to make; it is inexpensive; it tends to be "family" style as opposed to single serving (which often would involve putting together a whole plate of side veggies, etc. individually for each person); there is often a lot of variety, or at least a lot of mixing and matching of meats and veggies (setting aside authenticity, of course). Indian also has those characteristics (generally), but Indian restaurants have been less common in the U.S. historically.
Well, I think for starters is the fact that there are far more small inexpensive Chinese restaurants - some that pretty much only do takeout - than there are Indian, Japanese, or Mexican (outside of "Taco Bell") restaurants. Let's face it - there are very few strip shopping centers in America that don't boast a Chinese takeout place.
Outside of buffet joints, most of the Indian restaurants I've been to around here are more upscale sit-down than your normal Chinese takeout place. Many do offer "takeout", but their prices are such that somehow takeout just feels wrong - it seems nicer & more bang for one's buck to dine at the restaurant.
As far as Japanese, I've never warmed up to the idea of takeout Japanese. Takeout sushi simply isn't the same as when presented properly on site, & a good tempura (or any fried item) is frankly devoid of its traditional crispness after suffering even the shortest transport. So outside of noodles &/or soup or a benton-box type situation, what's left that would be nice as takeout?
Mexican? Once again - stuff suffers being enclosed in a container - even soft flour & corn tortillas take little time to turn into mush steaming away in their own heat in a container.
Chinese cuisine - even authentic specialty Chinese - simply (to my preferences anyway) lends itself better to still being very good after traveling.
Where I live it's either pizza or chinese food if you want delivery. It's convenient and delicious. Also, while I know that you can make your own takeout-style Chinese food at home it is a host of dishes which for me is just always better from a greasy takeout place vs other foods dishes that I might order from Mexican or Japanese restaurant which I have my own at home recipe favorites. For example, I used to go out for Mexican, but now have a perfect taco salad, enchilada and quesadilla recipe that I love so it's not really worth it for me. But the nostalgia and the inability to load up food with just enough salt, MSG, fat, sugar and/or whatever else my local Chinese place throws in keeps me coming back for more.