Rice is the Best Takeout Food Freebie (Fortune Cookies, the Worst)

July  6, 2016

Florence Fabricant has a soft spot for soup nuts.

The long-time New York Times contributor, finding herself with a pile of packets from a takeout order of chowder, sautéed the crackers in a wok with olive oil, dusted them with za'atar, and served them as a cocktail snack.

Florence's thrift had me wondering: What are the takeout tag-alongs that I value most, and what are those that make me regret ever having ordered takeout in the first place?

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Here's my unofficial, utterly biased list, from most to least desirable:

1. Rice of any kind.

I've noticed, since moving from Baltimore to New York, that rice isn't as free-flowing as it once was. (This city's expensive, have ya heard?!) But when it does come free, it's the gateway to fried rice, to rice fritters, to genius "kabbouleh," and it almost always has a better texture and/or flavor than I could acheive on my own. I eat cold takeout rice, especially the turmeric-colored one that comes, if you're lucky, with your order of Indian food, with my fingers. I love when it clumps (but I avoid the whole cloves and recommend you do, too).

2. Fried wonton chips/strips.

I'm still trying to figure out the order that will maximize the ratio of fried wonton chips to lo mein. Leave the lo mein, take the wontons. Shout-out to Jumbo Seafood in Pikesville, Maryland, where my parents used to let me have an entire meal of your fried egg rolls and fried wontons.

3. Pickled ginger and wasabi.

I can't be the only one who eats these straight, draped or dabbed on the chopstick, dipped into soy sauce, long after the sushi has disappeared.

4. Saltines.

Save up enough of the individual-serving-sized packets and maybe, one day, you'll have accumulated enough for Cracker Eggs or a goyish version of matzo brei. They'll likely be crushed by the time you unpack them from the paper bag, but hey, one step closer to the crust for Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie or the base for these Peanut Butter and Chocolate Squares. Saltines are also the common cure for stomach sickness—so if you're feeling a little shaky from the takeout food the next day, the ailment is already there! All you need is a banana.

5. Oyster crackers/soup nuts.

Inspired by Flo Fab (and Creative Director Kristen Miglore, who gets soup nuts shipped to her from California). Plus, no oysters are harmed in their making (though many a sea creature is harmed in their consumption).

Thanks Mom. I guess I'll start making more chowder. (p.s. These are the good kind.) #chowderresolutions2014

A photo posted by Kristen Miglore (@miglorious) on

6. Gum.

After-dinner entertainment! I like the Marukawa-brand gum: You get three gumballs—and a cumulative 4 seconds of flavorful chews—in one packet.

7. Mints.

You've really hit the jackpot if the mints are hiding chocolate! But this almost never happens. You can keep little peppermint sachets and put them in your bathroom (or, if you're me, on the pillow of a guest sleeping on the air mattress in your closet guest room).

8. Dressing on the side.

I am convinced that if you order the dressing on the side, you'll actually get a greater amount of dressing than would have been used had the salad come pre-dressed. So use what you like, then save that excess for tossing with your own creations in the future.

9. Ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, and soy sauce packets.

These are annoying because I likely already have fully-realized bottles in the fridge. Here, now, are these little packets that I will likely never open and that fit absolutely nowhere in my kitchen. (I might, however, be introduced to a new type of hot sauce, in which case this freebie moves up on the list.)

10. Jams and syrups.

These are annoying because I likely already have a jar of higher-quality, actually-made-with-some-semblance of fruit or sap in the fridge.

11. Duck, hot and sour, and barbecue sauce packets.

And these are annoying because I do not already have bottles of the like—and that's for a reason! Don't even know what's in them; always assumed they were not vegetarian. (Because how can duck sauce be vegetarian?! Turns out, it is... but regardless!)

12. Dill pickles.

I hate you.

13. Coleslaw.

Because I want to control how much mayonnaise gets mixed in there. I also have yet to figure out what coleslaw makes better.

14. Side salads.

If you're a food establishment in NYC and you're giving away your salads for free when you could be charging at least $6 for them—whatever they are—something is not right. That is, your tomatoes are white.

15. Toothpicks.

Not edible. Also I cannot get over the fact each one is individually wrapped in a plastic sleeve.

16. Fortune cookies.

Not edible. Also each individually wrapped in a plastic sleeve.

What goes right from the takeout bag into the garbage? (I know this is a terrible sin! But 'fess up! In the comments below)

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • 702551
  • HalfPint
  • PHIL
  • Olivia Bloom
    Olivia Bloom
  • Sarah Jampel
    Sarah Jampel
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


702551 July 7, 2016
I dunno.

Rice is pretty good, but I really do like free chips and salsa. Maybe that's just from being a Californian.

Leftover rice is easily had, I usually have some of my own somewhere in my fridge or freezer. Plus, it doesn't take much effort to make rice.

Fresh salsa? Fresh tortilla chips? That takes a bit more effort and resources. The best tortilla chips are fried that day using stale (day-old) tortillas. Good tortilla chips don't come in a vacuum-packed bag.
HalfPint July 6, 2016
I 'stock' up on these lime hard candies that look a lot like green starburst mints but tastes like key lime pie. I can only seem to find these candies in Texas. Never seen them anywhere else, not even California. So when I visit my family in Austin, I get as much as I can from my favorite restaurants there.

Fortune cookies are great if you get a relatively fresh batch. Lord knows how long those cookies have been around by the time they get to you. You can always dip them in chocolate. There's a restaurant in my area that does that and charges(!) 25 cents per cookie, and all they do is just dip the fortune cookies in some melted choc.
PHIL July 6, 2016
My dogs love fried wonton strips and it keeps me from eating all of them. I like oyster sauce so I always ask for some on the side and extra Hoisin for my Moo shu pork. I agree with you on the dressing on the side.
Olivia B. July 6, 2016
Agree on side salads. Wan, pathetic iceberg lettuce plus one cucumber slice does not a salad make.

Buttermints are my favorite.

And I'm not ashamed to admit I wholeheartedly love fortune cookies. I'd order Chinese just for them.
Sarah J. July 6, 2016
OLIVIA! I'm shocked.