Loth as How to Eat (HTE) is to break the fourth wall, it will come as no surprise to learn that this month’s topic is not what was originally planned. Over the years, HTE has stood firm against some implacable foes: people who put mayo on bacon butties, those who refuse to accept whipped cream with scones, but even it must bend in the whirlwind that is a global pandemic.
April had been marked down as the month HTE would consider Kate Bush’s favourite breakfast, shakshuka (think about it). But with going for a leisurely brunch now a remote possibility, HTE must pivot indoors and consider what – for those who can still afford it – has become the highlight of the food week: the takeaway.
Britain’s fondness for takeaway food has created something like a £5bn-a-year business (a £57-a-month habit for the league leaders Northern Ireland) that has ballooned in the past decade. In recent weeks, however, the options have grown enormously as many restaurants turn to takeout as a way of maintaining a little turnover.
In a rare, swift and seemingly wholly positive intervention, the government removed all red tape for pubs and restaurants that wish to offer takeaway. The reasoning may not be entirely altruistic (maintaining a national network of functioning kitchens that could be requisitioned if the crisis deepens seems like sensible emergency planning), but, nonetheless, it has led to a swathe of, particularly smaller, independent restaurants launching no-contact collection and delivery services for the first time.
Indeed, something unexpected appears to be happening, according to the Financial Times. A foodie cohort have been eager to support their favourite local restaurants, but, as their core volume brands such as McDonald’s and Wagamama close, the established delivery providers, such as Deliveroo, are experiencing a slump in sales, it is claimed.
With takeaway now one of the few ways we can still enjoy ourselves, it is crucial we ring every scintilla of pleasure from it. HTE is here to help.
Open popular delivery app. Place order. Accept delivery. Eat food. It’s simple, right? Yes, potentially. But if you want to support the devastated independent restaurant sector – of course you do, you’re a Guardian reader – the best thing is to order direct from a local restaurant using its delivery staff, so that it retains the full price from every sale. Go through a delivery provider, such as Just Eat or Uber Eats, and they will take 20% to 30% in commission on delivered orders. Many restaurants maintain that fee is unsustainable, particularly now when they need every penny to survive.
Be warned also that if you try to order at the last minute on Saturday evening, you may find many hot restaurants are too busy to accept fresh orders. Last Saturday, HTE had to park its hunger for Chinese and instead order in advance for Sunday. Takeaway is now something you have to plan.
Obviously, whether you are collecting a takeaway or waiting on delivery at home, you should keep your two metres distance. Want the definition of “strange times”? Kebab shops where you order remotely for collection, walk up, shout your name through an open door and then wait for your order to be left on a table by the entrance; a cordon sanitaire for the doner kebab.
Despite reports to the contrary, the World Health Organization has not specifically advised people to stop using cash. The Covid-19 advice on cash is as for anything you could touch in public: wash your hands and keep them away from your face. Nonetheless, that slight risk of transmission does make tipping delivery riders problematic at a time when tips are potentially financially crucial for delivery staff and their families.
One plus for Uber Eats is that it allows you to tip electronically after delivery. But if your faith in human nature is robust, where it exists as an option, pre-tip as you order. Otherwise, let your deliverer know you have left money on the doorstep. You could even reassure them you have washed your coins or a polymer notes with soapy water first.
In the realm of takeaway, there are two resolute buzzkills. The first is the “fakeaway” enthusiast who says: “Hey, guys, we could cook a healthier version right here.” (As if that were the aim.) These people are oblivious to just how crucial a tandoor, proper wok burner or wood-fired oven is to Indian, Chinese or Italian food. You cannot replicate that action in a domestic oven.
The second is that person in your household who, too busy for the frivolous business of eating, yells down the stairs: “Whatever, just order for me,” and then proceeds to moan about everything. The ordering of takeaway, at a macro- (Italian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Thai?) and micro-level (peshwari or keema naan?) is a debate that in serious households can rival the Yalta conference in terms of length, horse-trading and bitter resentment. If you are not willing to engage, you cannot sulk because there are no salt’n’pepper ribs.
The only people who want starters with a takeaway are people who have never eaten takeaway. Why do want to leave your main to go cold? Yes, you could turn the oven on to keep it warm. Yes, you could resort to the microwave. But let’s not turn this into a logistical palaver. The point of takeaway is it should be less hassle than cooking.
Sides are fine and, HTE sees no reason for pedantry, these may involve repurposed starters that can perch on the side of your plate as a complement to your main: seekh kebabs, tandoor-licked lamb chops, spring rolls etc. The important point is everything must be served contemporaneously and immediately, while it is still warm.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail … is not a phrase HTE finds itself using. But takeaway is a meal that requires you to channel David Brent. As described above, in order to eat warm food in its peak condition, the moments just after a takeaway enters your home are crucial. Plates must be warmed, drinks poured, cutlery and kitchen roll distributed and Netflix primed, so that, in a matter of seconds, the food can slot seamlessly into its new habit. If, as a family or cohabitants, you are not whirring with the balletic grace and energy of Manchester City’s midfield in the minutes before your takeaway arrives, then you are doing something wrong.
This is another reason against any form of supplementary cooking taking place to augment the takeaway – what the comedian Kevin Bridges memorably dubbed “hoose rice”. Beyond buttering your own bread for fish and chips (an act so personal you will always execute it in a superior way to the chip shop), your work should be no more complex than opening bags and boxes with the minimum of delay.
Note: if charged with transferring poppadoms or prawn crackers to another room for sharing, it is morally repugnant to then sit down and eat half of them before everyone else is settled. HTE blames Thatcher.
Historically, to plate or not to plate has been seen as a telling sociopolitical faultline. To plate a takeaway is seen as ridiculously posh, but HTE has always preferred to view this issue pragmatically – that is, until Covid-19 came along.
Before March 2020, certain takeaway foods were always better eaten as is. Fish and chips die a death decanted on to porcelain, pizza invariably tastes better from the box and only a barbarian would disrobe a burrito and plonk it on to a plate. This is partly a matter of psychology, but mainly a practical issue. If you unwrap them, all the above go cold too quickly. Conversely, despite the advances in cardboard boxes and other cartons, most Asian food is at its best transferred to plates and bowls. Eating a curry and rice from the plastic boxes it arrives is unnecessarily hard work. You would have to have a militant dislike of doing the dishes to persevere with it.
But coronavirus has rendered this argument null and void with wise scientific counsel urging us to, while the risk is small, remove all the packaging from any takeaway food that comes into the house and – you’ve guessed it – wash our hands after plating it.
One upside of this is that, for the foreseeable, it makes the takeaway buffet less likely. “Why don’t I just order a load of stuff and everyone can help themselves?” is, perhaps, the most frightening sentence in food; one that always results in everyone sitting around too little food, tolerating meagre helpings of the dishes they really wanted and grudgingly nibbling at others they do not like. Moreover, with all those trays and cartons on the table, this serving method means you spend as much time playing pass-the-parcel as eating. It is fundamentally annoying.
It may work with pizza (the exception that proves the rule), but the notion that the bulk of a takeaway should be shared by all is flawed. It is dictatorial. You do not want your plate to end up looking like a jumble sale, an unholy tangle of jarring dishes. Instead, taking an Indian meal as the easiest example, everyone should be allowed to choose their main and then dip in and out of the supplementaries as they see fit (rice, dal, breads, aforementioned sides-not-starters).
Who is to say? Traditionally, Friday or Saturday night at the end of the working week, maybe a hungover Sunday. But that was back when time had meaning and you knew which day it was.
So, takeaway, how do you eat yours?
Source: Thanks https://www.theguardian.com/food/2020/apr/03/how-to-eat-takeaway-while-under-coronavirus-lockdown