Would you like fries with that? Only if I’m eating at the source, writes Matt Preston as he delivers some take-home tips on what you should or shouldn’t order in.
@mattscravat CHIPS PIZZA @Mattscravat
COMBINE convenience with marketing and you can understand why we’re ordering more takeaway these days. The trouble is that some of the food on menus just isn’t suitable for a journey on the back of a moped. So what are the fatal takeaway traps to avoid and what dishes should we order in? The first four in the list are no-nos, while the rest can work if handled with care.
The beauty of a chip is the contrast of its fluffy interior with the brûlée-like crunch on the outside. Entomb your fries for delivery in a box and the steam will destroy that crunch quicker than you can say ‘crinkle-cut or shoestring’. Also, fries are way better if they’re piping-hot straight from the fryer, not lukewarm after riding pillion to your place. It’s even worse if they’re loaded fries – the damp toppings will accelerate the deterioration. And there are few things worse than cold loaded fries. Well, apart from cold nachos, the congealed lamb fat of a cold souvlaki or being forced to listen to The Chainsmokers’ ‘Selfie’ for 15 minutes. Eating in is better.
Sure, in Naples pizza was designed equally to be eaten in a restaurant or collected by carriage drivers of the rich as they clip-clopped down the arrow-straight Via Toledo to the royal palace. The Neapolitans even invented roadside pizza warmers to ensure the crust stayed hot and crisp. But the slice was eaten there and then; it wasn’t designed to be transported across town. While the superior heat of the pizzeria industrial oven far eclipses most home pizza-cooking options, the issue for takeaway pizza is that for every moment it’s enclosed in a box, the steaming interior of the crust attacks its exterior crispness. And as the pie cools, toppings like cheaper mozzarella risk a rubbery congealed fate. Eating in the pizzeria is so much better, or collect yourself so your order comes directly home immediately.
As above, there are the same issues with soggification of the chips and the congelation of the cheese unless these are really cheap nachos that come with that weird chemically rendered fluid cheese. I should note that ‘soggification’ is a word I just invented to describe this previously indescribable takeaway problem. ‘Soggification’ replaces the classification by sogginess scores for chips and pizza slices measured on the flaccidity metre. As in, “Oh, Kevin’s pizza slice measures a limp 2.5FM and his toppings are at dire risk of slipping off.”
There’s a little leeway with your toastie or jaffle when it comes to travel (well, unless it’s an egg jaffle where the yolk risks overcooking) because for perfect results it needs a moment or two for the scalding filling of cheese, baked beans or last night’s Bolognese to cool down to sub-molten-lava temperatures. But, really, it’s best to make them yourself, you lazy bugger. If you don’t have a sandwich press or a jaffle maker use a frying pan or make an Americanstyle open melt under the grill. Toast the bread on one side first then flip, top and grill it until whatever is on top – grated tasty, savoury mince – is bubbly and nicely tanned-up in places.
The best dumplings take the shortest route from the pan to your mouth. Steamed dumplings or wontons to go in a broth are the better choice, but avoid ordering those soup-filled dumplings takeaway as the soup can disappear into the wrappers, the meat or the bottom of the containers. The fried ones, meanwhile, will lose the allure of their golden crust when locked in a plastic box with all the steam coming off a dozen of them.
PASTA AND NOODLE BOXES
Pasta and noodle dough loves sucking up liquid. This is what makes them pliable and tender; however, overdo it and you’ll have a gluggy disaster on your hands. That’s why you should always ensure pasta dishes come with the sauce separate and that Asian noodle dishes are one of the drier styles or come with a separate sauce to douse them with after they land in your kitchen. Lasagne and cannelloni, however, are good if they’re still hot after the journey. The same goes for Greek pasta dishes like pastitsio which, back on the Cyclades island where I used to live, is often served closer to room temperature than 160 degrees.
A slab of moussaka is perfect takeaway fare, as are Greek salads and home-style dishes such as egg and lemon soup, dolmades or the delicious bean dish gigantes plaki.
Rice-paper rolls, soups like pho and even their more robust crunchy spring rolls make excellent takeaway options (especially if fresh elements like bean shoots or the lettuce or fresh herbs are packed separately). Fried dishes like salt and pepper squid won’t be as crunchy but are usually still presentable.
Do you really want takeaways, though? It’s barely cheaper than eating at the source where the food is better, it saves all the packaging and you get to eat off real plates without having to do the washing-up. And it’s an adventure.