Year of the Takeout


Takeout Chinese food has become one of the most common cuisines in New York City and the rest of the country, reaching a fast-food-level omnipresence — and standardization — that has yet to be achieved by other culinary traditions of foreign origin.

With few exceptions, your run-of-the-mill carry-away joint typically gets little positive attention from the culinary establishment — similar to many sit down-style Chinese restaurants, these eateries often get flack for changing traditional dishes to suit the sugar-crazed, carnivorous, and halophilic American palate, as noted by Slate. The thinking is that these restaurants are bad because they do not serve authentic Chinese food, blah blah blah.

Here at Fork in the Road, however, we tend to think that elitism and bizarre claims — the purported link between originality and quality, that is — are pretty much bullshit, especially when our own felicitous discoveries have made us question these long-standing ideas.

In 2012, we’re going to go to a different Cantonese-inspired, low-end takeout place every day — the kind you see on nearly every street corner in the city — and eat very routine, super-cheap picks such as egg foo young and moo goo gai pan.

Then, we’ll write about what we find and hopefully learn something cool along the way — or at least figure out which takeout places are the best. So check out FitR’s new feature: Year of the Takeout.

Day 1: House Special Lo Mein from Empire Corner (935 Amsterdam Avenue)

Lo mein, said to be Cantonese for “stirred noodles” — and perplexingly said by some to have etymological roots in 1970 (wtf?) — holds a dear place in the hearts of many carbophiles, and for good reason.

Though a lot of Chinese specialties try to balance starch, veggies, and proteins, Americanized lo mein rarely makes any such attempt.

And that’s probably why it tends to be great — it appeals to the evolutionary wiring that makes us just l-o-v-e the unhealthy stuff like salt and fat.

This restaurant’s offering does exactly this.

Respectable handfuls of green onions and bok choy — as well as a few carrot shards — provide an earthy depth and sweet crispness to chunks of cornstarch-dusted baby shrimp and chicken, bourbony pork, and occasional slivers of beef that swirl about this selection.

Steaming and redolent with hot oil, this noodle dish marvelously makes up for its lack of nuance with its complete overabundance of calories.