Popular Chinese Takeout Dishes, Power Ranked

Once, when I was in college, a storm knocked out all the power in our building. With nothing better to do, my roommates and I lit candles, sat around the kitchen table, and began playing F*ck, Marry, Kill in the semi-darkness.

If you’re not familiar with the game, the rules are pretty simple: You pick three people and categorize them, according to which of the title items you’d “do” to each person. It’s kind of mean, but it’s entertaining and we were bored; so we played for a long time. Such a long time, in fact, that we literally ran out of every human person we all knew. Yet still, torrential rain pelted our 4th story window, lightning sliced a path across the darkening sky, and thunder spooked us every few minutes.

We were at a loss. There was definitely no going anywhere in that storm.

“What do we do now?” someone asked, when we realized that our well of shared acquaintances was dry.

“Let’s play with foods,” one of my roommates suggested.

That’s when things got heated. We began to get very, very passionate about choices. There was arguing, yelling, disgust. Feelings were trampled on.

“HOW COULD YOU KILL, PAD SEE YEW?!” we bellowed at one another — having far more compassion for a particularly tasty Thai dish than we could ever muster for the various guys we’d made out with. It was easy to shrug our shoulders and agree that yes, if we had to, we would murder those bros and leave them for the rats. But not so with foods. Foods meant something.

My roommate, Becky, turned to me, a devilish grin on her face.

“It’s Allison’s turn,” she said, pausing dramatically while I awaited my fate. “Pizza, pot stickers, or….General Tso’s chicken.”

The other girls stared at me. One of them may have gasped. It was too much. Those were my three favorite foods in the whole world. Everyone knew that.

“I…” I faltered. “I can’t.”

“You have to. THAT’S the game.”

“Okay. Okay.” Snapshots of my beloved meals passed before my mind’s eye. I’d had such good times with each of them. “I’d marry pizza… And then I’d kill…No, I can’t. You can’t make me kill one of them!

“Do it,” the girls taunted, and in my memory they were now all wearing hooded capes, the candlelight casting sinister shadows across their faces. One of them may have presented me a bloody, butcher knife — I don’t know for certain. But I’m pretty sure they were circling me while vaguely humming the tune from The Exorcist. “Kill one of them, Allison. It’s time. You must.”

Pot Stickers and General Tso’s Chicken materialized and looked up at me, pleading.

“No!” I screamed. “NOOOOO!

That’s when I started crying. No, really. The game ended when I started crying because I couldn’t choose between ‘killing’ a chicken dish or pot stickers. That’s how strongly I feel about Chinese takeout; greasy, Americanized, terribly-wonderful Chinese takeout. I’d rather cry than choose between them.

Which made this particular power ranking rough. The spices! The sauces! The MSG! But I powered through (get it? Give this woman a raise!), and now I present to you: The definitive ranking of Chinese takeout.

Our rating system today will be the number of fortune cookies you receive that were misprinted and do not tell a fortune at all.

11. Sweet and Sour Chicken

“Is your Sweet and Sour Chicken good?” I asked the waiter once in a P.F. Changs in Boise, Idaho.

“I mean,” he said with a look of pure disgust on his face. “It’s good if you like chicken slathered in ketchup.”

It’s hard to say if that young man was really good at his job (I mean, it was an effective pitch, I did not order the sweet and sour chicken) or really, really bad at it. But either way, that description has always stayed with me. Sweet and sour from Chinese takeout often tastes like realllly sweet ketchup.

I have to think that Sweet and Sour Chicken is the product of a household that was in the middle of an epic fight of whose turn it was to do the grocery shopping. The wife insisted she went two weeks ago, the husband said her memory was totally off. In their stubborn stalemate, they had this convo:

“What’s for dinner?” he asked.

“Well, let’s see. We have left over breaded chicken,” she said, staring into the fridge. “Ketchup. And a pound of sugar. Maybe if you ran to the store, we could make something edible.”

“Oh no. That sounds just fine to me,” the husband said, calling his beloved’s bluff. “Mix the ketchup with sugar, and some water, and viola. You have a delicious meal….unless you want to go to the store?

“Nope, that sounds edible to me!”

And a new dish was created! Both parties choking down a disgusting meal to prove a point. MARRIAGE IS ABOUT WINNING AND LOSING AND THEY’LL NEVER SURRENDER.

Rating: 1 fortune cookie that says, “Your kindness shines to all around you.” That’s not a fortune, Cookie. It’s a compliment. And while I appreciate it, I wanted to know whether I’ll soon win the lottery.

10. Lo Mein

Lo Mein is the quintessential TV and movie Chinese takeout dish. How many times has a Rom Com character lifted cold noodles with chopsticks out of that classic white container to show that she’s all alone? Cold Chinese food for one! Our protagonist doesn’t even own plates because she’s a single woman and single ladies don’t have things like dishes or cutlery. All they have is their authentic Chinese decorative chopsticks and just enough cats to show that they are really lonely. (But not so many cats that you assume she gave up a long time ago and has a freezer that’s just filled with more cats.)

Our protagonist eats her cold noodles standing at the kitchen counter, because single women don’t sit. Isn’t it sad? She’ll have leftovers for lunch tomorrow at her job, which she’s probably very good at and is very fulfilled by. OH THE HUMANITY! That nice Sandra Bullock needs a man. He will fix everything.

Lo Mein’s ability to look good on film is exactly why it always looks so good to order. But beware, dear reader. Lo Mein from takeout is never actually good. It’s tasteless and dumb and while yes, you could have it under a better, saucier dish…. Wouldn’t you just as rather have white rice in its place? This is a pass.

Rating: 2 fortune cookies that tell you, “It’s only when it rains, that the rainbow comes.” I’m sorry, Cookie. When I went to the bathroom did I come out of the wrong door and end up in a kindergarten science lesson? That’s not a fortune. It’s a statement.

9. Hot and Sour Soup

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I get that some people like the classic Chinese takeout soups, Hot and Sour, Wonton, Egg Drop…. But I think they’re a waste of stomach space. I don’t dislike hot and sour soup, I just think it’s pointless because if I had wanted soup I WOULD HAVE GONE TO A SOUPERY!

Rating: 3 fortune cookies. All blank. It’s probably just a coincidence, ha ha. What are the odds right? I knew a girl who that happened to once. The very next day she was in a terrible accident. Probably won’t happen to you. But… maybe.

8. Mongolian Beef

This sweet, saucy beef is perfect for when you’re ordering with someone who doesn’t like spiciness. It’s a real crowd pleaser. And who doesn’t like whatever those weird, white noodles are that soak up the sauce? I assume they’re made from used Styrofoam containers, and I’m okay with that. It’s a good way to recycle, in a way that will reduce global warming without making us give up on coal mining in exchange for renewable energy sources. Because that’s the wave of the future. Coal mining. And if we all commit to eat Every. Single. Styrofoam container we come across, we can all do our part to keep the coal mining industry going!

Rating: 4 fortune cookies with a joke message like, “Help! I’m stuck in a cookie factory.” Some people might laugh at that. But not me. I take this cookie-factory-thing seriously. Who did it? I don’t know what they want. If they’re looking for ransom I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people who trap others in a cookie factory. If they let my cookie employee go now that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for them, I will not pursue them, but if they don’t, I will look for them, I will find them and I will kill them.

7. Egg Rolls

Egg rolls are so hit or miss. Sometimes they’re the best thing you’ve ever tasted, and sometimes you wonder if they’ve just been filled with that those thin strips of paper they use for packing. They’re fried, of course, and the dipping sauce is usually tasty. So I’m never like mad that I ordered them. But there’s always that twinge of disappointment when you bite into an egg roll and it’s just totally bland.

Rating: 5 fortune cookies that just have a series of cryptic symbols, “$%%%@ ^^ & ^ 8 * ( #)” on them. Are they predicting your death? Giving a clue to the location of the Holy Grail? Or just random symbols that were pushed when an employee had a massive heart attack, fell on their keyboard, and then slumped into the vat of cookie mixture — their corpse becoming the very cookie you just ate with delight? We’ll never know.

6. Fried rice

To the person who looked at white rice and thought, I’m going to make this rice next level shit DELICIOUS! Bravo. I take my hat off to you sir and/or madam. Except, I’m not wearing a hat. So I shall shave my entire head instead. Then, I’ll turn the hair into a medal that I shall present to you if I ever have the honor of meeting you in a dream or on an acid trip. Because I’m quite sure you’re dead. But if I’m ever in a horror movie called, “Chinese Takeout 3: The Rice Maker’s Revenge” in which you, the inventor of fried rice, comes back to life to torture young coeds at a lake with your murderous wok? I will thank you in person for all that you’ve done for food.

Rating: 6 fortune cookies. Each with a different platitude like “Home is where the heart is” or “Good things come to those who wait” or “I watch you while you sleep. No, really. I hide in your attic and watch you through a hole in the ceiling. I was your 4th grade teacher. Mr. Johnson. Enjoy your fried rice.”

5. Beef and Broccoli

You know what’s a nightmare? When you order chicken and broccoli thinking, well, I know I love beef and broccoli — so chicken and broccoli? That’s going to be the exact same dish! I mean one is just with chicken while the other has beef, right? RIGHT? Wrong. For beef and broccoli there’s a delicious brown sauce, and for chicken, it’s some sort of white, tasteless NONSENSE. And you’re left with this sad excuse for a dish when what you were really craving was the sauce from beef and broccoli. Why didn’t I just order “beef and broccoli then”? I don’t know.

Rating: 7 fortune cookies with a single jelly bean where the fortune should be. Maybe someone wanted the world to be a more whimsical place for you. You know, right before your wife files for divorce. Fortune writers do see the future you know, and she’s going to leave you for that coworker she always talks about in like two weeks. Tops. I’d get your finances in order.

4. Kung Pao Chicken

This spicy bit of perfection is not only delicious but a lower calorie choice than most of this list. Which means it’s really good for you. Better than eating vegetables or whatever crap your doctor has told you to start getting more of. Just replace whatever they said, fruit, calcium supplements, lean protein, etc with three helpings of Kung Pao chicken a day.

Plus, Kung Pao also wards off bears. Most experts I’ve absolutely never talked to recommend smearing Kung Pao chicken all over yourself, tent, and loved ones before camping.

And finally (as if you need more convincing of its powers), Kung Pao is also a salve for positive reproductive health. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, recommends filling a jade egg with the delicious Chinese takeout dish, wrapping it in a hornet’s nest and then shoving it up your hoo hah. You may be saying, “I’m a doctor! None of these things are true. That all sounds very dangerous!”

You think your “medical degree” qualifies you to give advice over the actress that brought us Shallow Hal? HAH. Sure. Keep telling yourself that, bub. In the meantime, my lady bits will be covered in hornet stings and healthier than they’ve ever been.

Rating: 8 fortune cookies that just say, “hamster.” It’s hard to say whether it’s because the writer likes like hamsters or because they’re warning you of something. Does the same factory that makes the cookies also do experiments on smart hamsters with radioactive powers? Yes. Why do you ask?

Anyway, without any good clues or leads, who know what the fortune, “hamster” means. Not me.

3. Crab Rangoon

This classic Chinese takeout staple is as American as Apple Pie! These may be fried nothings, filled with fake crab, and cream cheese ‘food’ items, but boy, are they delicious. When I tell people I don’t like seafood, I clarify. Except crab Rangoon. That counts, right? It has the word “crab” in it so….

Rating: 9 fortune cookies that all just seem to be lines stolen from the Phil Collins song, “Against All Odds.” It’s a strange choice, but if you’re really being honest, you ARE the only person who really knew that cookie at all.

2. Potstickers

So here it is….. it’s the final countdown. Dunnah nuh nuh. Dunnuh nuh nuh nuh.

I guess it makes it less dramatic when you’re already looking at the list…but….uh….potstickers come second. THEY’RE AMAZING AND I’LL ALWAYS LOVE THEM. But I have to follow my heart here. I’m older. Wiser. I barely cried at all while making this list.

Potstickers are delicious. But they’re no General Tso’s. And in my heart, I think I always knew that.

Rating: 10 fortune cookies. And they all say, “One day you’ll be trapped into making weekly food rankings. It is your destiny…and your curse. AND IT WILL KILL YOU.”

Disturbing? Yes. But at least it’s a real fortune.

1. General Tso’s Chicken

Spicy, breaded, incredible, devoid of dumb vegetables — this delicious food will always have my love. Enjoy it the accolades General, you deserve it.

Rating: All the fortune cookies. You heard me, sir. ALL OF THEM. I DON’T CARE WHAT THEY SAY. PUT THEM IN THE BAG. NOW.