The best and worst foods to order for delivery

Not all foods survive the journey from restaurant to doorstep in good condition

Today's expression: Hit or miss
Explore more: Lesson #307
October 29, 2020:

The pandemic has made food delivery more popular than ever. We’re sharing the inside scoop on the foods and factors that are ideal for delivery – and those that aren’t. Hopefully, you’ll never be disappointed with an order of soggy fries again. Plus, learn what it means to “wreak havoc.”

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The best and worst foods to order for delivery

Lesson summary

Hi there, I’m Jeff, and welcome to Plain English Lesson 307. JR is the producer and he has uploaded the full lesson to the web site at PlainEnglish.com/307. And if this food-related episode whets your appetite for more Plain English, you can find each and every one of our 307 lessons at PlainEnglish.com by typing in the lesson number, so PlainEnglish.com, slash, and then the lesson number.

Coming up today: A lot of us are ordering more meals for delivery these days, but some meals travel better than others. If you’ve ever opened your order and thought, “This is not the way it looked in the picture,” then this lesson is for you. The English expression is “hit or miss” and JR has a song of the week.

Best and worst foods for delivery

Pretty much every form of delivery has increased in popularity during the pandemic. People want to make as few trips out in public as possible, so they’re shifting to services that bring things right to their doors. In the US, food delivery companies like DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats have all seen huge growth over the past few months. They were popular before, but they’re more popular than ever now. Many restaurants that never delivered before are now jumping on the delivery bandwagon.

Just one problem: not every type of food is good when it’s delivered.

What was delivery before the pandemic? Ordering food for delivery has always been one of those things people have done when they’re tired after a long day, don’t feel like cooking, and want comfort food. Comfort food is food that makes you feel good—usually traditional recipes, heavier. Americans will think pizza, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, Asian noodle dishes, fried rice, things like that.

There’s a reason why there are so many food delivery options in the comfort category. For one, they’re delicious. Your local Thai place may not be the authentic Bangkok-style noodles and the pizza may not be—well, let’s face it, the pizza definitely is not the classic Neapolitan pie. But there’s no denying that it’s delicious.

These comfort foods have something else in common, too: they all travel well. Even when faced with temperature challenges and plenty of jostling around on their journeys, they still maintain their form and are tasty upon arrival – or taste just as good reheated. That’s why Chinese and Thai restaurants and pizza restaurants are so successful with delivery.

Sadly, not all food survives the journey from restaurant to doorstep in good condition, and that’s a problem for some restaurants that serve, say, steak. There are some foods that really must be served hot or fresh. What happens if your order a burger and fries? I’ll tell you from experience: I ordered a burger and fries just once for delivery when I was living in New York.

The food was lukewarm by the time I got it; that’s to be expected. The problem was, it had also steamed up the box in the process, which left the French fries soggy. The ketchup on the burger had soaked into the bun. Rather than being fresh and springy, the bun was crushed and a little soggy. Lettuce can sometimes protect against that, but not this time. The melted cheese wasn’t soft any more. It just didn’t have that fresh-off-the-grill sensation.

And unlike pizza or noodles, there’s no coming back from that state. You can’t reheat soggy fries and make them crispy again. And a good burger has a mixture of temperatures: the meat is warm, the bun is room temperature, and the veggies are cool. If you put the whole thing in the microwave, the sensation is ruined.

So what are the best and worst foods for delivery? Burgers don’t work, as we’ve seen. Anything fried tends to be questionable: like French fries, fried food tends to lose its crisp after a few minutes, especially when it travels in a box or a bag.

On the flip side, anything meant to stay cold, like milkshakes and ice cream, have a very short window of time before they reach a point of no return. Plus, there’s no guarantee that delivery drivers have a cooler. Unless you are certain of the delivery time and temperature control, I’d say skip that one. I suppose you can put melted ice cream back in the freezer, but that’s not the same.

Combinations of textures make things tricky, too. Anything with a sauce is risky because the sauce can soak into the other ingredients, like bread. Pasta isn’t usually a good bet: after pasta is cooked, it can turn hard again if it’s not eaten right away and it doesn’t reheat very well.

Poké bowls, the Hawaiian-inspired bowls with diced raw fish, rice, fresh veggies, and sauce are a rising star in delivery. Despite having a variety of textures, the ingredients don’t come mixed together, so the separation of ingredients in the bowl prevents everything from mushing together – which is key. Plus, Poké bowls are meant to be served cold, so that prevents the steaming and temperature control problems. As long as the bowls are stored in insulated bags in transit, this is a good option. Mediterranean delivery is popular in the US now—these usually have a combination of rice, spiced chicken or meat, veggies, feta cheese, dressings, and falafel balls. These are good as long as the ingredients are kept somewhat separate on the way.

Meat can be hit or miss. Slow-cooked meats, like barbecue, are perfect for delivery because they are still good even if they’ve cooled off a bit and they can easily be reheated. Something like a filet of salmon or a steak will not travel as well because you need to get the temperature exactly right. Anything that depends on fancy presentation, like fine dining, probably won’t be worth it either. All the movement involved with delivery can mess with the presentation.

Healthy or comfort food?

I’ve done very, very little delivery during the pandemic. I used to get food delivered before the pandemic, back when I was traveling for work and when I had a long commute. I just couldn’t keep up with buying enough food and cooking it. But now that I’m home all day, not traveling, not commuting, I’m cooking almost all my own meals. I do miss the variety of restaurant meals, but I would rarely order healthy delivery meals. I’d always open the app and think, I can order this sensible baked fish with multigrain rice and steamed vegetables…or I could order pulled pork and mac and cheese—the comfort food. The comfort food won all too often when I had those apps open.

What food do you like for delivery? And what food do you find does not work well when delivered to your doorstep? I’d love to hear in our free Facebook group, which you can find by visiting PlainEnglish.com/Facebook or in the Plain English Plus+ forums, if you’re a Plus member.

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Expression: Hit or miss