Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Sad State of Chinese Takeout

courtesy of blissweddingsmarket
of Flickr
Tuesday June 12, 7:59 p.m.

Perhaps it's a case of sepia-and-rose-coloured glasses informing my memories of Chinese takeout but I think things had been a whole lot better before I went off to Japan 17 years ago. Now, Chinese takeout is nowhere as healthy as any take-away salad, but for an old foodie like me, the decades-old culinary institution of taking home Deep-Fried Butterfly Shrimp, Sweet n' Sour Chicken, and Chow Mein in those white cardboard boxes with tiny plastic packets of soy sauce and mustard was as dependable as death and taxes. My family could always trust the local Chinese restaurant for a good plentiful dinner.

But since I got back home for good, my family has taken out from three different Chinese restaurants that specialize (supposedly) in takeout, and have been disappointed each time. It's almost mindblowing how small the amounts of noodles and Sweet n' Sour Chicken are now. And the so-called sauce for Lemon Chicken Soo Guy looks and feels like flat Mellow Yellow (I'm being polite about the comparison, by the way). I gently suggested to my mother that perhaps a bit of cornstarch water could help thicken it up, but she absolutely refused to turn on the stove, since she got the takeout to avoid cooking on a hot day in the first place.

It's kinda ironic since the quality of sitdown Chinese restaurants has generally improved by a good margin over the past few decades. Back when I was a kid here, the menu for both the sitdown and takeout menus were indistinguishable, but now good dim sum is not difficult at all, soup dumplings can be had easily, and a lot of other scrumptious dishes can also be noshed on at any Chinese restaurant. Now, a lot of my Chinese friends here in Toronto would scoff at my love for the so-called Americanized Chinese stuff like Sweet n' Sour and plain ol' Chow Mein, but I had always appreciated the choice for the best of two worlds. Now it looks like one world is literally shriveling up. Maybe it's the growing prices of ingredients or perhaps there isn't as much pride in making that mess of chicken balls anymore.