Chinese take-out is Western Chinese food that is picked up by customers or delivered to customers in their homes. The folded, rectangular cardboard Chinese-take out box, with its thin wire handle, is as recognizable in the United States as the take-out cardboard pizza box. The food is usually considered fairly inexpensive, although not cheap. Some Chinese take-out establishments have dine-in facilities as well.
The Chinese take-out kitchen idea began in California in the middle of the nineteenth century. These early eateries were very makeshift and were recognized by Cantonese laborers by a yellow triangular piece of cloth attached to the outside of the kitchen. The cloth symbol let the Cantonese workers know that the place inside would have hot, affordable and, most of all, familiar food.
As more and more non-Chinese people began frequenting these informal restaurants, dishes began being created that were more suitable to non-Chinese tastes. These included Chop Suey and Chow Mein and they are still extremely popular Chinese take-out foods today. Chop Suey features pieces of meat, poultry and/or fish and vegetables in a brown sauce and Chow Mein is a noodle dish that also has bean sprouts and other vegetables. Vegetarian, or Mushroom, Chow Mein has no meat or fish, but most other Chow Mein variations include meat, shrimp or chicken.
Typical Chinese take-out appetizers include soups and egg rolls and larger establishment may offer many more options. There is usually a good selection of main dishes made with meat, poultry and fish as well as some vegetarian dishes made with tofu. Steamed rice is a common side dish as is Fried Rice which is another early Americanized Chinese dish. Fried Rice is made with eggs, vegetables such as peas and bits of cooked pork and/or mushrooms added to the rice.
Sit-down Chinese restaurants that also have a take-out option may offer more traditional dishes in their Chinese take-out selection. Even non-fried Chinese foods are often high in sodium and those on sodium restricted diets may not be able to eat Chinese take-out foods on their doctor's orders. Yet Chinese take-out is a favorite of many people. Fortune cookies, sweet cookies that contain a slip of paper containing a message, offer a fun way to end a Chinese take-out meal. Fortune cookies were also invented in California — at a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco.