Ever notice how many movies have the dramatic "pouring rain" scene? When the director really wants to give you the "climactic, emotionally charged moment," a good rainstorm is always in the offing.
To me, Chinese takeout/delivery has the same sort of semiotic significance, especially in New York films. When Woody Allen and the pubescent Mariel Hemingway snuggle apres sex watching old films on TV in Manhattan, they eat their Chinese in bed straight out of the carton. In The Godfather,as Michael Corleone prepares himself to dine with — and murder — police chief McCluskey and mob rival Solozzo over a plate of the best Italian veal in the city, the family waits for word of the location of the meeting while picking at the remnants of their meal from the Chinese food containers strewn all over the dining room table.
To me, Chinese food delivery signals some level of informal yet significant intimacy. And with this city's world-famous Chinatown and ubiquitous restaurants representing all the provinces and regions of China — from Szechuan to Hong Kong — Chinese food definitely spells New York to me.
In New York, one of the most reliable signposts of a prosperous neighborhood — meaning one with all the amenities you could ask for, and the prices to match — is the quality and variety of its restaurants, both eat-in and takeout. In my old ritzy Upper East Side neighborhood, you could step outside, walk down the block, and sample cuisines from all over the world. And as a matter of course, you could also get a vast variety of great food delivered straight to your door. In fact, there were so many takeout places slipping menus under the doors that some apartment vestibules posted signs that sternly admonished, "No Menus."
When I moved to the Lower East Side from the Upper East Side of New York City about 15 years ago, I did so reluctantly. At the time the neighborhood was so under-the-radar unhip it didn't even seem to count as part of Manhattan. And the dearth of local restaurants was a culture shock as well. Some great places were within walking distance, but none of them delivered. If you wanted to get a pastrami on rye from Katz's — the famous deli on Houston Street where the "orgasm" scene from When Harry Met Sally was filmed — you had a 15-minute walk ahead of you. Chinatown was likewise a short stroll away, but it may as well have been a continent when you were jonesing for some good chow fun at 10 pm and wanted to stay in. So at the time, the only game in town were the really cheap storefront Chinese joints, where everything was gloppy and greasy.