Welcome, dear readers, to The Takeout Draft, our recurring feature that combines our love of food, fantasy sports, and arguing on Slack.
Every week, we will select a topic of conversation from the food and drink world. Takeout writers will then field a team via the snake draft format. After five rounds, The Takeout commenteriat will vote on who they believe was victorious in that week’s draft. At the end of the year, the staffer with the most weekly victories will select a charity of his/her choice that The Takeout will make a donation towards.
The previous Takeout Draft: best football party snack was our closest Takeout Draft in history, truly the Bush/Gore of Takeout Drafts. With roughly 2,000 votes cast, just four votes separated all three participants. Kate Bernot barely eked out the win, pending any recounts in Florida.
This week, the topic is Chinese-American food, the kind of dishes you can order from any generic “Chinese” place in America. Competing in the Thunderdome this week are members of the Takeout staff: Kate Bernot, Aimee Levitt, Allison Robicelli, and Marnie Shure. The randomizer has selected a draft order:
Let’s do this.
Kate Bernot: Aimee, kick us off!
Aimee Levitt: This is so hard! I feel like I have this whole menu in front of me, and I have to pick one thing... But I guess I will go with the one thing I always get: Mongolian beef
I like the spiciness and the sweetness of the onions, and the texture of the wok-cooked beef.
Allison Robicelli: What exactly is Mongolian beef?
Kate: Oh, you’re in luck, Allison:
Aimee: It’s beef sauteed in a spicy brown sauce with onions and scallions.
Allison: I feel like with Chinese food, you decide on like five dishes when you’re young that you’ll eat for the rest of your life.
Aimee: It’s true.
Marnie Shure: Too true
Aimee: It’s so comforting.
Allison: Okay, for my first pick: FRIED DUMPLINGS
Marnie: Educate me: is this distinct from pot stickers, or the same?
Kate: Yeah, takeout is one instance in which I’m not going with steamed dumplings, probably.
Allison: The best part of Chinese takeout is the laziness of it. You’re not setting the table, you’re not getting nice plates out, and you don’t even need to eat with utensils if you’re not feeling it. Dumplings are meant to be eaten from the couch while watching Jeopardy.
I’d never heard of the term potsticker til I went to college in Boston. Someone should look up the etymology of the term potsticker. Not me, though, because I have other very important things to do this week.
Like work on Friday’s recipe, which is going to blow our readers’ minds (probably)
Aimee: There are so many origin stories. I don’t know who to trust here.
Allison: What’s awesome about dumplings is that I can buy a huge frozen bag of them for like five bucks, and yet I STILL order them through takeout
They’re the laziest thing to make, and still that’s a bridge too far some days
Kate: Alright, I’m going with another fried option for my first-round choice, and hear me out: pork fried rice
Fried rice might seem like a basic choice, but it’s complicated to make good fried rice at home.
Allison: I don’t think anyone needed to hear you out on that one. Pork fried rice is the shit.
Aimee: Can we agree that pork is the best fried rice?
Allison: No matter how bad the restaurant is, the fried rice will be good like 95% of the time. It’s got the best odds on the menu.
Kate: Okay good. YES, exactly. Hardly ever let down by the pork fried rice. And you get seemingly 3 lbs of it for $9 or whatever.
Marnie: There are ALWAYS leftovers.
Kate: Put 👏 an 👏 egg 👏 on 👏 that 👏 shit. Best leftovers ever
Marnie: My first pick might make for good leftovers, but I honestly don’t know because I’ve never had any left over: orange chicken
Allison: This was a possible pick for me ONLY because it makes for good leftovers. I’ve ordered it before just to put straight in the fridge for the next morning. Cold Chinese food is the true Breakfast of Champions.
Marnie: Very good to know. Is this maybe the most American of the American Cantonese classics? It’s been my favorite since the first time I ever ordered Chinese. I never want to find out how much sugar is in it.
Aimee: That’s for the best, I think. And see, there’s Allison’s theory in practice.
Allison: Sweet and sour chicken is the most American of the Americanized Chinese
Kate: Yeah this is one dish where the sweet/savory balance is tilted in just a different way than a lot of other dishes on the menu.
Allison: Orange chicken has been showing people the power of Asian fried chicken long before Bonchon or David Chang. How can it stay crispy after an overnight stay in my fridge? More props need to be sent orange chicken’s way.
Marnie: On an episode of Rick and Morty they made a joke about ordering “Sugar Chicken” from Panda Express. It cuts to the core. Anyway, a good range of picks in round one!
Marnie: For my second pick, I’m going to scoop up what is presumably on all your lists: egg rolls
Aimee: Nope, you can have ‘em.
Kate: Damn, that would have gone in an early round for me if not for king-of-all-time fried rice.
Marnie: Egg rolls, even more than other Chinese takeout dishes, were seemingly built for travel. They’re impervious little vessels
Aimee: I’ve never gotten a non-soggy egg roll from delivery. Maybe I’m ordering from the wrong places.
Marnie: Wow, really??
Aimee: I’ve had a sad life.
Allison: I really hated egg rolls when I was a kid, but now I can’t get enough of them. Probably because I’ve accepted cabbage as a food. Which, incidentally, is pretty much my favorite vegetable now. Funny how life goes.
Marnie: Agreed. Cabbage slaws are my go-to. But yes, the egg roll is just a perfect little bite of food. That’s all.
Kate: Speaking of eggs, my second round pick: egg drop soup. I’ve never even contemplated making this myself, it’s too tied to the experience of ordering takeout. It’s so cozily… thick? But not?
Aimee: It always comes for free, too!
Kate: It is a wonder of texture, and it warms me deep, deep in my inner reptilian brain.
Allison: It’s slimy, but a good slimy. Like liquid velvet
Marnie: All these warm, cozy picks are making this a very seasonal draft.
Allison: We’re all warm and cozy, all the time. Planning next year’s recipe calendar and I already have “Summer of Stews” as a theme.
Aimee: Oh, Lord.
Allison: Okay, I’m up next, and a la last draft’s “loaded nachos” pick, I’m pulling a Bernot and going with PU PU PLATTER
Kate: Low blow
Allison: Now, the pu pu platter isn’t just an “appetizer sampler.” It’s a dish that has a little thing that’s on fire. And that’s the important part of the dish.
Aimee: What’s on a pu pu platter exactly?
Allison: I don’t think you’re actually supposed to put food on that little fire thing, but I do it every single time. It adds absolutely no benefit to the food whatsoever.
Kate: But oh, the adventure.
Allison: There’s shrimp toast, ribs, fried shrimp and, my favorite, chicken in foil. Most places don’t serve that anymore. It’s really a throwback to the old Trader Vic’s-style Polynesian places. The pu pu platter has mostly gone the way of the dodo. It’s an icon of those old Cantonese restaurants decorated in lanterns and dragons, where the waiters wore red jackets
Marnie: Would you order it as takeout, or is that a strictly in-house dish?
Allison: You can order it with takeout, but there’s no fire so really what’s the point. Then it becomes an appetizer platter. Unless you find a way to start a tiny, festive fire in your house, which is certainly doable.
Allison: More like a catering Sterno, but those aren’t festive enough. Maybe if you Bedazzled one.
Marnie: I certainly hope “platter of a little bit of everything” wasn’t your next pick, Aimee.
Aimee: Well... My next pick is the Happy Family. It’s everything! It’s also the first Chinese meal I ever had that I really enjoyed, since I never had it growing up (I know...), and it was so good! Also, you don’t have to choose between beef, shrimp, and chicken, so that takes away a lot of work for me.
Kate: The surf and turf of Chinese-American takeout, if you will.
Allison: So it was a little platter of everything.
Marnie: With your pick, Aimee, vegetables have finally entered the equation in a meaningful way, and I like that
Aimee: Does anyone get Chinese takeout for the vegetables?
Marnie: Great point
Allison: Where are the vegetables in a beef, shrimp and chicken combo?
Aimee: In the sauce, floating around.
Allison: You know it’s like 80% celery, because that’s cheap, and it’s all going straight in the garbage.
Aimee: They are still there, so you can pretend.
Allison: Chinese places need to stop wasting my time with celery. Know what’s good? Onions. That’s a cheap vegetable I can support. Happy family with onions, no celery. BOOM.
Marnie: Aimee, is your next pick Celery and Onion Stew?
Aimee: Sorry, no. It’s Springfield, Missouri, cashew chicken.
Kate: Is that a regional variation?
Aimee: Yes. It’s basically fried chicken in gravy with onions and cashews on top, but it was invented by a Chinese immigrant, so it totally counts.
Marnie: Can it be found outside of Springfield? I must try this
Allison: I love cashews in everything. This is a strong pick.
Aimee: It’s throughout central Missouri. I’ve found it as far east as Rolla, which is about an hour and a half outside St. Louis.
Allison: This is another dish they’ll try to put bullshit celery in as filler, so be vigilant about that.
Aimee: No, it’s classic Midwest, so they skip the veggies
Allison: Oh good.
Aimee: They know what’s up.
Allison: My next pick: BEEF AND BROCCOLI. Honestly surprised no one has taken this yet.
Kate: UGH stolen right out from under me.
Allison: It makes broccoli taste crazy delicious. I love broccoli now, but when I was a kid it was totally gross because my mom — like many — boiled hers. And boiling cruciferous vegetables makes them taste like farts. Beef and broccoli was like a promise of what broccoli could be if only you cared about it
Kate: One of the few ways I ever saw my little brother eat green vegetables as kid.
Aimee: It’s a gateway!
Kate: Well, since you claimed that one, I’m going with chicken lo mein. I had to get a noodle dish on my team, and this is my favorite one.
Allison: Another good choice. Surprised you went chicken, though! I usually go for pork or shrimp, if I’m feeling fancy. I have a very low bar for fancy
Kate: Idk, somehow with the springy noodles, I want something that isn’t as chewy as the pork. But all lo meins are tasty. I am lo mein inclusive.
Marnie: That’s beautiful, Kate. My third-round pick: Egg Foo Young
Allison: Oh man! I was hoping to grab this one.
Marnie: I didn’t try this till I was in high school, but it quickly became a go-to order
Allison: I discovered Egg Foo Young in my 20s and my God do I regret sleeping on it for so long.
Marnie: I think it’s fallen out of fashion as a Chinese takeout order, or at least, I’m the only person who ever gets it in a group
Allison: I mean, it’s a deep fried omelet. How did I not know?
Kate: Also makes a heck of a sandwich.
Aimee: In St. Louis, they call it St. Paul Sandwich. (Who knew Missouri was a hotbed of Chinese food?)
Allison: I’ve never made it as a sandwich! Is this another Midwest thing?
Kate: It is!
Marnie: And, for my final pick: Sweet and Sour Chicken. There is absolutely no nutritional value that can be derived from this thick deep-fried casing and sugary, tangy sauce. And that’s why it’s such a powerful takeout decision to make. Pure indulgence. Oily, gloopy, and great
Allison: Sweet and sour chicken are chicken nuggets dipped in corn syrup. There is no “sour.” Plus we all know that McNuggets are the grandest of all nuggets, and if you come for the king you best not miss.
Aimee: Ouch. That’s way harsh, Robicelli.
Allison: I have been burned too many times by sweet and sour chicken, and today I shall have my vengeance
Marnie: Hey, at least it wasn’t swiped away from me as a draft pick. My delicious ducks are all in a row!
Aimee: I always wonder how they get it that shade of orange.
Marnie: Best not to think about it
Kate: Okay, for my final choice: crab rangoon. Such a guilty pleasure, and I totally understand why it weirds some people out. But I love it so. It is like a comforting fried-dairy-and-seafood pillow.
Allison: I love this!
Aimee: Ooooh, I was going to pick that!
Allison: Fake crab is one of my favorite things on God’s green earth
Aimee: Nothing Chinese about it, but so good. You can’t stop eating them.
Allison: I’ve had crab rangoon with 0% crab in it. Just cream cheese. And it didn’t bother me at all.
Kate: Also acceptable. But crab is a nice touch in crab rangoon.
Allison: Oh, it was advertised as crab rangoon. They were just being cheap about it, and everyone said “this is totally okay”
Allison: My final pick is MOO SHU PORK because it comes with tiny pancakes! That’s seriously it. I love the tiny pancakes. I love food where you get to put everything together yourself.
Kate: I am not entirely sure I’ve ever had moo shu pork but I do like pancakes.
Marnie: I agree, Allison. Assembling each bite of a dish is so rewarding
Aimee: You get exactly what you want.
Allison: When I was a kid, I always wanted to cook, but wasn’t allowed to use the kitchen. So when I’d get moo shu pork, I felt like I had some sort of control over things. Like I was an adult who could make her own choices about how my dinner would look. There’s some level of responsibility implied. The restaurant gives you the ingredients, but it’s up to you to make everything good. Even if it’s just putting filling and sauce in a pancake.
Aimee: That’s a lot when you’re a kid. Okay, my last pick: Cold sesame noodles. They hit the spot when it’s hot, but the best sesame noodles I ever had were in the middle of winter, so. Good all the time.
Kate: So do you order them warm and let them get cold?
Aimee: They usually get cold by the time they get to you.
Allison: I was a vegetarian in high school, and I lived off of these.
Aimee: Here’s the Takeout’s very own recipe, which I’ve made several times:
Kate: Brb, placing my delivery order
Allison: Once again, everyone in this draft is a winner, except for Marnie with her sweet and sour chicken
Aimee: So judgmental!
Marnie: I’ll be laughing all the way to my neighborhood takeout spot.