Les restes

Leftovers - les restes

The French don’t really have the same reverence for leftovers that Americans do, which may be a throwback to the time before people had reliable refrigeration – which still doesn’t explain why nowadays, when they do, some people still keep leftovers like beef stew and roast chicken in the cupboard overnight rather than in the refrigerator. But is mostly because when you dine in France, you’re supposed to eat everything on your plate. Although the food in France can be rich – richer than what even us overstuffed Americans are used to (I always find it curious that Americans come to France and by day #3, they can’t eat another bite) – it’s considered somewhat impolite to leave food on your plate. Even a ½ teaspoon of sauce isn’t left behind; it’s carefully mopped up and consumed with a crusty end of bread. And by the end of each course, your plate is expected to be wiped clean.

Leftovers - les restes

The concept of le doggy bag draws snickers in France, partially for the aforementioned reason. An article in Le Monde, which mentions this American pratique courant is titled: I Feel Ashamed to Ask for a Doggy Bag. Curiously, the practice of bringing home leftover wine is considered a-ok. But another reason is because it’s a bit inelegant to traipse across a dining room after a meal toting a bag of food through the dining room, on your way out.

Some restaurants in America will discreetly hold your bag at the host’s podium so you can grab it as you leave, which I know because my normally well-mannered mother was a constant source of rolling eyes to my relatives in Los Angeles when we’d come to visit, because whenever they took us to a nice place for dinner, nearly half the meal came home with her.

Leftovers - les restes

(But probably in weight-conscious Los Angeles, it’s now encouraged. In fact, I once read one of those articles about how to dine out and lose weight, which advised, “As soon as your meal arrives, ask for a take-out container and put half of it in there so you don’t eat it.” I tell you, the day someone tries that in Paris, please invite me to come watch for the waiter’s reaction.)

Yet change is afoot. An enterprising organization has sprung up in France, suggested the use of les doggy bags as un geste écoloque, away to combat food gaspillage (waste). Le Parisien newspaper reiterated the reluctance in an article, Les français sont pas “fans” du doggy bag, which noted that les écologistes still have their work cut out for them.

Another hurdle les doggy bags is that the country is an intricate maze of regulations that tend to compartmentalize, well — everything, so there is a unique set of rules for just about everything.

A friend opened a bakery which specialized in wedding cakes, which meant she was classified not as a bakery, but as a traiteur (caterer), since the main items were meant to be taken away and consumed elsewhere. I suppose she could have cut out a whole mess of paperwork if she invited the wedding parties to the bakery to do the honors of cutting and serving the gâteau de marriage on site. But I doubt few couples want to stand in the middle of a bakery and eat their cakes there.)

In spite of some aspirations to acclimate to this très américaine idea, the doggy bag movement, as far as I can tell (or see), hasn’t taken off. And even though the French have completely embraced frozen food with remarkable alacrity, via chez Picard, the idea of reheating already prepared foods purchased elsewhere is still an elusive concept. Which is why when I try to explain the glories of cold, leftover pizza for breakfast, I get odd looks from my partner. The upside is that I don’t have to share.

France is changing fast in many ways, but the idea of eating in courses is still fixed in the psyche. Which is why, even if you go do the most run-down corner café or bistro, there is a menu du jour composed of a first and second course, and sometimes, a dessert, too. But portions are moderated and you don’t find steaks hanging off the edges of the plates or triple-high stacked burgers, and it’s rare to find a jambon-beurre sandwich with more than two slender slices of ham tucked inside an entire half-baguette.

Leftovers - les restes

When I was dining out with a friend recently in Brooklyn, after our meal in the dimly lit restaurant, because I am my mother’s son, I ended up taking home what we didn’t eat. Due to the low-lighting (and the cocktails), I wasn’t keeping tabs on how much my dining companion was served, or what exactly he ate. But when I opened up le reste of his pasta the following day, there was a full portion in that container — and then some. It must have been a massive portion he’d been served because I could barely get through le reste for lunch.

Another few food-filled boxes that ended up in my fridge a few days later ended up there after a visit to a Chinese dumpling shop in Queens. Neither me, nor my dining companion, felt like we had over-ordered – I think we may have had five orders of dumplings between the two of us? – but I had a massive portion of dumplings for lunch the next day, courtesy of a bag I toted home on the subway. Unfortunately the overnight stay in the refrigerator didn’t do anything to improve their dowdy gray color, which was only slightly improved by a side of chile sauce that they’d tucked into the bag in a little plastic container. Which was, admittedly, a nice touch. (But why they put five sets of chopsticks in the bag is beyond me.)

Leftovers - les restes

Still, it’s funny how obliging they are to wrap up leftover food to take home in the states and it still takes me by surprise that there’s zero blowback for asking. The only time I’ve even dined with friends and had leftovers wrapped to go in Paris, the waiters put foil over the entire plate, and said “Just bring back the plate tomorrow.” Of course, the two times that has happened, I was dining with attractive women and, of course, the café waiters would have gone to the moon and back with a sheet of foil for them. For anyone else – including me, you take your chances…

chinese food leftovers

Because I’m a Californian, I’ve been having a little trouble over the lingering feeling that I am a traitor (not a traiteur) to the cause for having all these paper and plastic containers lingering around, which bothers others as well, evidenced by the fury that was unleashed in one of my social media streams when I took a snap of a Styrofoam container that I had no idea was coming with my take-away dumplings.

Leftovers - les restes

Personally, I’ve had to learn to stop judging people when I find plastic water bottles filling up the trash cans in Paris buildings, even though the plastic recycling bin is just next to it. Or the mass of cigarette butts that get carelessly tossed everywhere, each one polluting500 liters of our drinking water. (With 30 billion of them on the streets of Paris, I’m just glad that I’m terrible at math.)

Anti-Littering

The city of Paris is doing its best to get people to be conscious of dropping things (or in the case of the aftermath of drinking a tall drink, on the left) spraying things, on the streets and in the curbs.

Paris Propre

And I just have to realize that not everyone gives a hoot, and the anti-littering hibou (owl) hasn’t landed everywhere in the world.

384295051_a59d576297

Having just returned from a trip to San Francisco, it was remarkable that even at the airport, there were multiple recycling and composting boxes and bins for everything. I think I spent as much time sorting the aftermath from the burrito I had for lunch; the foil, the compostable utensils, and the napkins, into the right slots.

But we Americans have some goofiness when it comes to recycling, too. When I brought some batteries to a big-box hardware store to be recycled, they said I had to put them in a plastic bag first. Like the plastic food containers for leftovers that I’m now collecting, where my dilemma is wondering if it’s better to wash them in hot water and use energy and water to do that, or toss them and conserve water and gas. (Note: I currently wash them and save them for reuse, but I continue to lose sleep over it.) Which also begs the question: It is better to leave food behind than take it home in Styrofoam? Is a plastic container better than paper since paper can easily be recycled, although plastic can be reused over and over? And what happens to that plastic bag with my lone battery in it?

Is it better to have a throw away a paper container than use the hot water and energy that’s required to wash a plastic one? And should they outlaw cigarette filters since they linger for twelve years, whereas an unfiltered cigarette butt disappears and washes away after the first rain? Should I bring glass containers with me when I go out to eat? But if they’re made in China, is shipping them long distances worse for my carbon footprint than paper or plastic? And will I be honte (ashamed) in Paris if I join the doggy bag movement? And here we all thought that going out to eat was supposed to be a pleasurable experience…

While I’ve never gotten an upbraiding for spooning up Greek yogurt, eating kale (one more reason to eschew those kale-chocolate chip cookies I saw recently), cooking up some tofu, or boiling up some quinoa, these pictures here are the last you’ll see of my take-out containers. I think I’m just going to have to learn how to eat everything on my plate when I’m in America, like I do in France.

Since they say stress is bad for you, I’ve decided it’s best to let it go and stick to the time-tested idea of eating a variety of things, hoping for the best. Kale is still on the menu (although not in my cookies), and I’ll confess to an occasional scoop of Greek yogurt on my granola in the morning. And I intend to be a member, once again, of the clean plate club. Yet I do think about all that leftover food I’m missing out on when I dine in restaurants, which makes for an easy lunch the next day. Although I just might skip going out all together. It’s too complicated.


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93 comments

  • April 7, 2015 7:04pm

    Left overs are the best lunch the following day!

  • April 7, 2015 7:25pm

    When we went to Paris on our honeymoon I was so, so conscious of the idea that we CANNOT ask for leftovers lest be judged as stupid tourists. I know zero French and when we were out to Le Comptoir du Relais for lunch, a woman came up to us and asked me something in French at the end of our meal. I assumed that she was asking if I wanted to take the rest of my food with me, so gave an emphatic “Non!” She looked taken aback. I now realize that she probably asked me if I enjoyed my meal or something similar. I felt awful. Of course the food was wonderful and I was just full.

  • April 7, 2015 7:27pm

    Upon my return to les US, I have fully embraced the doggie bag culture and started to take home half-drunk bottles of wine! It’s a practice that has made many, many mornings easier, but I always feel like a total weirdo asking.

  • April 7, 2015 7:27pm

    A few years back — 2010 — I had lunch at the Union Square Cafe in Manhattan. I was by myself and sat at the bar. A wonderful older woman eventually sat down next to me and we got to chatting about her travels. I had just gotten back from Damascus (2010 was a different time) and she had spent a lot of time there. She was quite the regular and the staff all knew her. I made a passing comment about the beautiful bread basket I had been served and how sad I was to leave it behind…what a waste it was, all that uneaten bread. “Oh don’t worry” she said. “I take the bread home all the time.”

    I gave her my basket and she left the restaurant with all her bread and mine, for sandwiches the next day. (And probably the day after that too.) The staff told us both how grateful they were that she took home the bread because otherwise, it would just go in the trash.

    And now when there’s bread left, I ask for the bread to be wrapped up…I felt a little awkward doing it at first, but I’ve gotten used to it now. And I would rather have it for breakfast the next morning than let it go to waste.

  • Marie
    April 7, 2015 7:36pm

    My english is not good enough so I will leave a comment in french ;) Ici, au Québec, possiblement influencé par la culture américaine, on peut demander sans trop de problème une “doggy bag” pour amener nos restants. Ce qui est le plus courant: la pizza. Personnellement, j’amène rarement les restants du restaurant puisque la plupart du temps, je termine mon assiette :) Peut-être que les portions sont plus petites qu’au USA.

  • April 7, 2015 7:53pm

    Loved this story. Thank you for your insights, David. France and the US still often feel like two different dimensions to me. My favorite paragraph in your story: “But probably in weight-conscious Los Angeles, it’s now encouraged. In fact, I once read one of those articles about how to dine out and lose weight, which advised, ‘As soon as your meal arrives, ask for a take-out container and put half of it in there so you don’t eat it.’ I tell you, the day someone tries that in Paris, please invite me to come watch for the waiter’s reaction.” — If I may ask for a small favor: Do include me on that little outing, ;-) — Veronique, aka French Girl in Seattle

  • Charlotte K
    April 7, 2015 8:06pm

    Leftover bread in a restaurant…not a concept I can wrap my head around!

  • April 7, 2015 8:36pm

    It really does get tricky. Kind of along the lines of is it better to shun meat because of how much water it takes to grow it, or to eat tofu that is grown with soybeans that are shipped from far away and many times grown in land that used to be rainforest? Or is being a raw vegan best even though that pretty platter of bananas, mangoes, berries and kiwi was shipped across thousands of miles from all over the world? I think you can just commit to doing your best but not stressing out too much about it….

  • April 7, 2015 8:48pm

    my provisional answer to all of the above is to bring along my own doggie bag. (learned from my frugal chinese cousins and aunties.) my favorite option at the moment is a compact but deep square or round metal container with plastic pop on lid. this minimizes/eliminates styrofoam remorse. an additional heavy duty ziploc is a good option for leaky leftovers. and WHENEVER i end up somewhere with good leftover bread, it is wrapped up in large paper napkins and turned into french toast or bread pudding and home.

  • April 7, 2015 9:03pm

    Here in the UK, some places will give doggy bags, but others don’t serve huge enough portions that you would need one. My parents, who have very small appetites, tend to wrap up a second sausage, or slice of meat in their napkins – I tell them over and over that the waiters would probably bring them a bag if they asked, especially as they eat in the same place every week, but they don’t do it. The dog loves their leftovers.

    Meanwhile, the only place in France that I’ve ever even remotely considered asking for a doggy bag is in a choucroute restaurant, where the portions are totally ridiculous!

  • Aislinn M.
    April 7, 2015 9:05pm

    David, it has been a pleasure to read your published works and online blog. This particular blog entry truly hit home with me. I’ve been in France for near six months and overall I’ve fared well in adjusting to French culture/cultural habits. However, when dining out I almost always never finish my three or five or just one course meal, as I am tres Americaine and depend on bringing my leftovers home. It’s remarkable how my lack of eating my entire plate brings restaurant service to a halt, as the waiter/waitress wait for me to finish. My husband (who is French) most often finishes my portions, and I sit thinking… damn, that would’ve been great tomorrow for dejeuner, etc. Only time will aid in changing my very American (Wisconsin) habits into semi-French habits, haha!

    Again, wonderful writing and thank you!

  • April 7, 2015 9:11pm

    When in Paris recently at Schwartz’ deli in the Marais the pastrami sandwiches were so huge you simply couldn’t eat them in one go. Doggy bag? But of course, Madame! No problem at all.
    A month ago in San Francisco in just about each and every restaurant the portions were almost obscenely huge and we were asked each and every time if we’d like to have a doggy bag. Staying in a hotel that wasn’t really an option and people were almost offended, as if we didn’t like their food. Which we did! Back home here in Provence we often take half drunk wine bottles home with us – again, pas de problème! But then again here you rarely come upon food portions that you cannot manage.

  • Aurelie
    April 7, 2015 9:17pm

    As a former Californian living in Switzerland I never understood why doggy bags aren’t widespread here either. The Swiss would certainly be economical enough. There’s actually a start-up in Berne which is trying to get certain restaurants to use tupperware containers for take-away food but unfortunately it isn’t really catching on.

    I very much appreciated this post, as I always find myself in the perpetual dilemma of saving-food vs. producing waste. Similarly, organic local meat vs over-processed veggie schnitzel alternative? Local hothouse strawberries or bananas from Costa Rica? It’s great to have a food blogger addressing these issues, they so often seem to get sidelined for the usual vegetarian-vegan-gluten-free-etc discussions. Chapeau!

  • berit
    April 7, 2015 9:31pm

    I’ve heard American portions are too big to eat up, so don’t feel bad for leftovers :)

  • Jim Hanlon
    April 7, 2015 10:05pm

    Already started … at least in Lyon. See http://gourmetbag.fr/

  • April 8, 2015 1:15am
    David Lebovitz

    French Girl in Seattle: I remember reading that, thinking, “Could you imagine that in France?” (I also think it’s kind of a weird thing to do in America, too. Taking what you don’t eat home is one thing, but being served a plate of food and immediately sliding half of it into a to-go container isn’t very respectful of the cooks, if you’re dining in a nice restaurant.)

    Ann: I always thought it was amusing that it’s considered a-ok to bring home wine that you haven’t finished in France, but food isn’t. In addition to the reasons mentioned in the post, I’ve also heard from people in France that they think it’s unhygienic. I guess if you had a very lengthy ride home it might be…

    Kara: No reason to feel awful : ) I always think, if I made a gaffe or goof, that if they were traveling to my home country, they’d probably make a few bumbles, too.

  • April 8, 2015 1:47am

    My husband and I had tickets to a chili cookoff. We were each going to get eight three-ounce samples. That was three pounds of chili! We couldn’t eat all that.

    So I took little tupperwares with me. I thought people would laugh, but instead – and I should have anticipated this, as we live in the thrifty Midwest among German descendants, people looked and said, “I wish I had thought of that!”

    My people. :)

  • April 8, 2015 2:14am

    I adore leftovers! I actually purposefully cook more food than necessary so that I can have leftover the next day! I especially feel like pasta sauces and stews really benefit from this!

  • Lucille Anna
    April 8, 2015 2:44am

    …have you considered pretending you own a dog?
    -Lucille

  • April 8, 2015 2:53am

    I recently ran across an article that claimed that reusable, non-woven polypropylene plastic shopping bags have to be used 11 times to have a lower global warming potential than singe-use HDPE bags (the thin plastic shopping sacks most Americans are used to). Cotton bags have to be reused 131 times. Paper bags are the real losers – they have to be reused 4 times before the global warming effect is lower than one HDPE bag, and they add more pollution to the water supply. Link (PDF)

    Reusing HDPE bags as trash can liners further reduces their environmental impact – you get more environmental bag for your buck by using that HDPE bag for your trash than you would stuffing it into your plastic recycling container.

  • Cathy
    April 8, 2015 3:05am

    We live in one of the few CA cities that requires restaurants to charge for bags. So we have to bring our own bags and have gone even further, usually bringing our own containers – normally plastic tubs leftover some some other food product. In addition to helping save the environment, we don’t have to bother the waitstaff to box stuff for us and we’re not embarrassed by asking take bread, sauces, etc. home. I tried to talk my significant other into bringing baggies or other take-home containers to Paris with us, but he said he’d be too embarrassed to use them. David, what do you think (especially if the restaurant will never remember us ).

  • love your blog
    April 8, 2015 5:05am

    “The French don’t really have the same reverence for leftovers that Americans do”

    This wasn’t always the case. A French friend told me how he remembers his grand-mother taking a tupperware with her whenever she’d be eating out, this was pre-WWII I think. People used to be much more frugal and do a better job at mitigating waste.

    To look at the issue from a different perspective, I don’t recall (and I may be wrong) you writing about the crazy big portions in the states, which inherently creates this doggy bag situation, and since not everyone doggy bags leftover, a lot ends up in the trash. :\

    The thing I love about France is how I can eat a satisfying 3-course meal without feeling bloated at the end, not so much the case in the states.

    I’ve been enjoying your “cultural and ethical reflections” recently, keep it going!

  • ita darling
    April 8, 2015 8:37am

    Oh! Thanks for bringing this up!!! So many thoughts: I love french portions and can’t imagine taking food home- my only time to take home food in Paris was at my friendly Grillades Buenas Aires (14th) and they serve a massive two person filet that my partner and I just couldnt eat all of… but they are Venezuelan and happily wrapped up the remains without even asking!

    The cultural/ ethical/environmental guilt/dilemmas that come with modern eating are So Real! Delivery food is an ecological nightmare that makes me second guess how many small pots of sauces and utensils are really necessary and I can rarely justify the habit any longer except in times of hangover, sickness, or returning home from a trip with no food in the house (but uh.. thats why a Picard stocked freezer is necessary), but even the amount of waste that I produce from cooking exclusively at home bothers me… the only answer is to go to only farmers markets and bulk foods shops and use reusable produce bags.. I have stopped taking plastic produce bags for almost all produce items- i know this drove the cashiers crazy at my monoprix and U Express, but i can easily put two lemons or a courgette on a conveyor belt easier than bagging and producing more plastic waste! But what is the answer for everyone?

    Also- Why don’t more restaurants who serve huge portions offer demi versions? A favorite spot in Texas who serves MASSIVE salads offer half sizes for $2 less.. it seemed like a bargain to not have the waste (as salads dont really and the restaurant profits more..

    Lastly- thinking about delivery, economics, environment, and waste- it brought to mind stories of the Dabawallas in Mumbai ( http://nyti.ms/1HP96UC).. where reusable containers are used and home cooked meals delivered in the MILLIONS daily with no waste and no error… how come westerners cannot figure out how to master less waste?

    • April 8, 2015 3:07pm
      David Lebovitz

      Some cities are trying to reduce waste. San Francisco and Brooklyn, New York have composting programs, and some places have banned plastic bags. Yes, in Paris, it’s hard to get away from some places without plastic bags. The city had tried make all plastic bags compostable back in 2006 but somehow, that never happened. (Some of the larger supermarkets now make you pay a few cents for a bag, which has helped reduce their use.)

      I bring plastic bags to the market in Paris but more than half the time, the vendors insist on giving me a fresh one “for hygiene” they tell me. And no, I tell them, I don’t need a bag for lemons or avocados. But I think a majority of the people like getting plastic bags because they use them for other things and don’t need to buy them, so they continue to give them.

  • Armelle
    April 8, 2015 11:13am

    I love the doggy bags in the US, where the plates are so full there’s no chance to eat everything in one sitting.
    Your story about the foil paper in Paris is quite typical: I think that the reason why you can’t have a doggy bag is because the restaurant simply don’t have take-home containers for the clients. If I knew the option was available, I’d love to get a doggy bag sometimes.

  • Bebe
    April 8, 2015 4:37pm

    I shamelessly take good leftovers. Not necessarily everything on the plate. But a beautiful piece of steak? You betcha.

    Our best Chinese restaurant offers generous half portions that are still too much for two of us (who like to order three items plus the excellent brown rice). They have their own cartons and as a matter of course offer to pack up everything to tote home. We end up with another meal (usually lunch). Mmmm.

    Good wine is never left behind. Just be sure that it is in your car trunk in California where open liquor containers in the car can bring big trouble if one is stopped.

    If the restaurant’s bread is outstanding and is put on the table when one sits down, why not take leftovers? A seafood restaurant near us puts a huge amount of their sourdough on the table. Cannot bear to leave it behind…

    Leftovers in France? Fine if they can be refrigerated. Otherwise, no.

  • Rus Franswick
    April 8, 2015 5:12pm

    Cabot cottage cheese in your fridge?

  • Raro
    April 8, 2015 5:19pm

    Though normally pretty sane, I am crazy about wasted food and food scraps. As much as possible I bring my own container for leftovers when we dine out. I collect stuff from our plates that even I don’t intend to eat. Why? I give it to our backyard hens. So I am the one rummaging through the garbage at the kids’ birthday parties, collecting the pizza bones for the hens. Luckily I don’t have to post my name here. Otherwise you might never invite me to a party.

  • April 8, 2015 5:29pm

    I love the doggy bags… they make a gr8 breakfast and of course keep the pet too

  • Terry
    April 8, 2015 5:31pm

    I too agonize over whether to wash out plastic bags or toss them – which is more environmentally damaging? Who the heck knows?

    What I really wonder is why American eating places give you so much food to begin with – well, now that most of us are obese, I guess customers demand huge portions – but why should a normal portion have to be a special thing? Shouldn’t we have to face up to our gluttony by ordering TWO meals if that’s the amount we want? Alas, this will never happen. So, I’ll continue to ask for doggy bags, and spread one meal’s cost over three or four.

    • April 8, 2015 5:43pm
      David Lebovitz

      One of the reasons that restaurants give people so much food is that a common restaurant complaint is that “We left and we were still hungry.” I’ve heard that quite a few times from people when discussing why they didn’t like a restaurant. And, of course, some places take that to the extreme with over-the-top portions (and I’ve seen tv shows in the US which make a spectacle out of over-eating) – so there’s that, too. I guess a lot of people like it.

  • karen
    April 8, 2015 5:40pm

    I have been meaning to get into the habit of bringing my own plastic containers with me to restaurants, as it makes me nuts to take home Styrofoam when our town doesn’t recycle it. Now that this is again in the forefront of my brain, I am going to put some Tupperware containers in the trunk of my car so they are ready for the next time I eat out. That way I can pack up my own food without creating an environmental nightmare every time.

  • April 8, 2015 5:40pm

    When I was living in France in the 90s, we went out to dinner at our favorite neighborhood restaurant. I couldn’t finish my Salmon Pasta dish so channeling my American roots, I asked if I could take my leftovers home. I think that it was the first time that the server had ever been asked that question. First of all, he wondered how I was going to transport it, which was easily solved when I said “papier alu” (foil). But what troubled him the most was that “when you take it home and put it in the refrigerator it will then be cold”. I easily solved that when I explained that I would just re-heat it! I wonder if he remembers the experience as much as I do…….

  • Christine
    April 8, 2015 5:46pm

    If someone is a person who is quite conscientiously trying to lessen their own weight and part of that scheme is to halve restaurant portions (particularly in America), unless you’re going into a restaurant with a tiny purse the size of a deck of cards, why not have your own containers (glass!!) for carrying things home? In France, if restaurants are not prepared for handing over leftovers, if someone brought their own containers (and managed to be a little subtle, perhaps!?) it would eliminate the shock of the waiters at being asked to contribute to the doggy bag. Also, in American restaurants (I assume all of America, but certainly state by state) leftover bread on the table is legally to be tossed if customers haven’t eaten it all (not reused for the next table, and probably not for use as croutons) so take it with you. You paid for it!

  • mac
    April 8, 2015 5:58pm

    Just for contrast (not my own philosophy) !

    Andy Warhol identified (this) as his “New York Diet” in “The Philosophy” :

    …” [W]hen I order in a restaurant, I order everything that I don’t want, so I have a lot to play around with while everyone else eats. Then, no matter how chic the restaurant is, I insist that the waiter wrap the entire plate up like a to-go order, and after we leave the restaurant I find a little corner outside in the street to leave the plate in, because there are so many people in New York who live in the streets, with everything they own in shopping bags.

    So I lose weight and stay trim, and I think that maybe one of those people will find a Grenouille dinner on the window ledge. But then, you never know, maybe they wouldn’t like what I ordered as much as I didn’t like it, and maybe they’d turn up their noses and look through the garbage for some half-eaten rye bread. You just never know with people. You just never know what they’ll like, what you should do for them.”

    Also just bring your own reusable container…a simple solution to the “doggy” problem. It will also keep you more “honest” about whether you really will use the leftovers anyway.

  • Eric John
    April 8, 2015 6:06pm

    My guess is reason the French don’t do doggy bags is two reasons:

    a) It’s considered good manners to clean your plate, (only children leave food behind).

    and

    b) Their resturaunt portions are human-sized and so there’s nothing left to take home.

  • April 8, 2015 6:16pm

    It is interesting how much thought goes into deciding to ask for leftovers across cultures. In India it isn’t scorned upon, and a restaurant would gladly oblige to pack what you cannot eat. Although a lot of folks would rather not ask for a doggy bag at more expensive or pricey places because they don’t want to come across as being cheap. Steel reusable containers which were the go to storage option are now slowly losing the battle to fancy coloured plastics. This made for a very interesting read David. Enjoyed it

  • Sherry
    April 8, 2015 6:25pm

    I know better than to ask to take leftovers home when in France, but it kills me. Even with the smaller portions, unless I’m having only a plat and no entree, I often can’t finish. The worst is ordering a pizza, eating less than half, then watch it get taken away when I can’t eat any more. In the US, that pizza would come home with me and get eaten the next day. In France, it becomes garbage. I always debate asking for it to be wrapped up, but haven’t worked up the courage.

  • Charlie
    April 8, 2015 6:44pm

    David: Here in Canada we have long approved of the doggie bag!

    Be practical here. Different people can eat different amounts
    Wasting it, is a waste of money, especially if you aren’t rich.
    Taking it home provides a second meal.

    When we first moved to Germany in the 80’s (we were there 6 years), a friend took me out to lunch. The amount of food bowled me over. I could only eat about a quarter of the meal. I’m serious, there was enough food for a family of four.
    My friend told me it was an insult to leave food behind.
    The german frau was so upset, she thought there was something wrong with the meal.
    My friend explained my tiny tummy, and asked if I could have it wrapped up, to take home to eat later, as I didn’t want to waste something so delicious.
    The frau was so excited that I wanted to take it home, that she actually wrapped her arms around me and kissed me on the cheek.
    After that the gasthaus started to offer that options for the Kanadische.

    I think people should quit being snobs, forget about what others think (that is only pride)
    and quit wasting food. (IMO).

    Always enjoy your posts :~D

  • bonnie
    April 8, 2015 6:44pm

    I live in the south of France and if I have food left I always ask to take it with me. Part of a good main course, or a pizza — I would not try to take bread, potatoes, side vegetables, etc. I have never had anyone so much as give me a strange look. Lots of people here must do it. I would not do it in a fancy restaurant, however — but not in the US either!

  • tomato
    April 8, 2015 6:56pm

    My parents are retirees in south Florida. If you saw what goes on down there, your tête would explode. I’ve been in restaurants where the styrofoam containers come out with the meal. I’ve seen people with millions in their 401K calculating the leftover factor before the plates even hit the table. It’s basically a sport.

  • Joan
    April 8, 2015 8:02pm

    My first few experiences asking for a doggy bag in Paris were mixed. No one ever said no, but “vessels” they gave me rarely made it home in one piece.

    I refuse to waste good food … and since I don’t cook, my leftovers from dinner are usually lunch the next day. Keeping a couple of ziplock freezer bags in my purse at all times has solved the problem for me. When the waiters aren’t looking, I discretely slide what I can’t finish into the bag. Voilà. Clean plate club, tomorrow’s lunch and no one’s the wiser as I leave the restaurant.

  • gail
    April 8, 2015 8:30pm

    Food waste, cigarette butts thrown carelessly on beaches and in gutters, plastic water bottles unrecycled is all very much frowned upon and fined in Australia. We are early adopters of most things, so when there enough good publicity/ journalism/legislation around the subject, school kids, get “indoctrinated” asap and the country (for the most part) gets on board. You can recycle most plastic&styrofoam these days…

    “Doggie bags” in restaurants are not frowned upon here. I just use a dishwashing brush in a plastic basin in my sink which has a little water in it (no wasted litres of running water!) and scrub out any leftovers containers and then throw that water over the garden. Alternativley, those containers can also be washed in the dishwasher and put out in recycling bins if it gets too much. I also re-use them to send leftovers from my cooking or all that extra cake,etc., I dont need, home with friends!

    Surely we have a responsiblity to each other and the planet to minimise our carbon footprint. The alternative is sickening… and a sick, dying planet…

  • April 8, 2015 8:31pm

    Since I know it’s going to be too much food when I eat out, I order based on what will keep well for the next day or so. I can’t stand to waste food and I particularly like leftovers that can be reinvented, like rice made into fried rice.

    Owen got a job recently and he has gained 4 pounds in 2 months by eating lunch out every day with his colleagues. The portions are ridiculous, not to mention the fat content, like gobs of greasy cheese in a meat enchilada.

    One month in, he started bringing home half of what was on his plate as a survival strategy, and I have often made 2 meals from one leftover! I fear that now I am going to gain weight eating his leftovers, since they are much more indulgent than what I would normally make for myself. So it is not just the quantity but the amount of saturated fat, etc. in these dishes.

    If you wonder why Americans are obese, it’s definitely because we eat out more than we used to.

    Re containers, like you, I have agonized about what is the “right thing to do” and it’s impossible to decide.

  • April 8, 2015 9:01pm

    A most timely article, Honey-Bunches. The severity of the drought in California is Número Uno the reason we should all put a bit more thought into how we use, resuse and discard all containers. Last year we visited our daughter in Northern California. A twenty per cent reduction in water use restriction was already in place; this year they have increased it an additional 25%. That total is a 45% reduction over usage of two years ago.

    I love this piece. Please submit it to the NYT, SFC, LAT, WP, WS…. You get my jest. Just get it out THERE!

  • Lisa M
    April 8, 2015 10:04pm

    I can’t believe no one chimed in to echo your favorite Sunday morning breakfast: cold pizza leftover from the nite before! Yum. Fun post, David. Thank you.

  • a
    April 8, 2015 10:14pm

    That’s silly. Would you throw out leftovers of things you made at home because of the energy it takes to wash the tupperware?

  • Kathleen Graas
    April 8, 2015 10:26pm

    I empathize, but do not think the clean plate club is for me. I HAVE cut back on the dining out, for all these same reasons, not to mention improved health. Sharing a food order is my new way to combat ever having the issue present itself. Just ask for a second plate; they will usually accommodate. But sometimes, no one else wants to eat the same thing.

    If I ever get to Paris, I do not really care what the waiters think.

  • nonie
    April 8, 2015 10:31pm

    David, Sometimes your (apparent) throwaway comments are the best: “the country is an intricate maze of regulations that tend to compartmentalize, well — everything, so there is a unique set of rules for just about everything.” Watching our daughter navigate a gap year in Paris, I’ve been looking for these very words. One gets (kind of) used to it, but the phenomenon can be surprising to Americans who interpret (manipulate) things freely. This compartmentalization is all at once a smack-in-the-face to our willfulness, a tad refreshing, and often mindlessly frustrating. And for a friend who needed day-care during a three month research assignment, it all came down to “who-you-know” in the bureaucracy with the right stamp. But I wouldn’t for a second give up the chance to be in Paris or in any of the restaurants, food shops, or markets you recommend! Thank you!

  • Leslie
    April 8, 2015 11:06pm

    I had an acquaintance in college who had just returned from a year in Paris. She suggested that anyone doing study abroad should take a sociology course, and that one of the things she had learned in class was that the French always leave their plates really clean because their ancestors haven’t always had access to enough water to do dishes, and it’s a habit that stuck.

  • sybilleastrid
    April 9, 2015 12:00am

    As I have gotten older I find that I cannot eat as much and I do appreciate smaller portions so that I don’t need to take “doggie bags” home. I do, of course because both I and my dogs love leftovers. My European mother, who is 85, still finds it’s gauche not to clean the plate, so she orders very small plates (sometimes she asks for a taste of my dish) and a dessert (everyone needs dessert). I now look and ask for the dessert menu before I order to make sure that I can eat dessert. Sometimes I cannot decide on the menu. I appreciate fine establishments that pare down the portions so that I can have seven courses, including dessert, and come home satisfied with full flavor but not brim full. I would never dare to ask for a bag at Gary Danko’s. There is never leftover wine.

  • PromGal
    April 9, 2015 12:05am

    As an American who lived in France for many years and who now lives and works there part time, I am really put off by the anti-American sentiment and the America bashing on so many of these threads, even when it only concerns food. Everything French is not better! Everything American is not louche!
    Some Americans seem to be much more food obsessed about food in France than are the French.

    We were raised to stop eating when you are no longer hungry, and “always leave something on your plate for Miss Manners”. Most of my friends and family in France were raised the exact same way. You don’t clean your plate, and certainly don’t use bread to “mop up” sauce. It very much depends on your milieu, how you were raised, whether you are bien elevé ou pas, and other factors.

    As to taking food home and doggy bags, I think it very much depends on the kind of restaurant you’re at. Food is portioned and served on a plate, and the polite thing to do is if you don’t finish it is to leave it.
    Would you take out a container and use it at a dinner party?
    Most people who ask for doggy bags take the food home and then they wind up throwing it out.
    Most restaurants in NY donate food left over at the end of the day, bread etc to a food bank that distributes it to those in need.
    Don’t order more than you can eat at lunch or dinner. It is a restaurant, not a feeding trough. Here in New York my husband and I dine out often, at restaurants of all kinds. We don’t like leftovers, and never take food home. We often share a main dish. Nobody ever objects ~ they might charge a splitting fee but it’s better than stuffing yourself with food that you don’t want or taking it home and never eating it.
    IMHO taking the politics out of food would be a welcome step to restoring dining at home and in restaurants to its proper place, a way for friends and family to break bread together and share and experience, of joy and love, minus the PC that has invaded so many areas of our life, and not for the better.

  • Lucy
    April 9, 2015 12:08am

    I’m in Sydney and a lot of people get doggy bags here. In fact one restaurant Goni’s Schnitzeria upon ordering a plate you get 10 schnitzels on one plate (of course one person cannot finish) so it is expected and the restaurant provides you with doggy bags as they expect customers to take home their unfinished meal.

  • Fleur75
    April 9, 2015 12:11am

    Everything French is not better! Everything American is not louche!
    Some Americans seem to be much more food obsessed about food in France than are the French.

    We were raised to stop eating when you are no longer hungry, and “always leave something on your plate for Miss Manners”. Most of my friends and family in France were raised the exact same way. You don’t clean your plate, and certainly don’t use bread to “mop up” sauce. It very much depends on your milieu, how you were raised, whether you are bien elevé ou pas, and other factors.

    Would you take out a container and use it at a dinner party?
    Most people who ask for doggy bags take the food home and then they wind up throwing it out.
    Most restaurants in NY donate food left over at the end of the day, bread etc to a food bank that distributes it to those in need.

    IMHO taking the politics out of food would be a welcome step to restoring dining at home and in restaurants to its proper place, a way for friends and family to break bread together and share and experience, of joy and love, minus the PC that has invaded so many areas of our life, and not for the better.

  • April 9, 2015 12:20am

    1. Doggy bags work best, when you plan on finishing it for breakfast or lunch!
    2. Just being aware of whether to toss out or use energy is a step forward.
    3. Dining out once in awhile is our motto…I don’t feel bad splitting an entree and dessert – solving the overeating problem etc.
    4. Conservation in Northern California requires focus; for starters, it’s easy to use a basin of water to wash dishes, and then rinse under low flow water…throw the remainder on your garden plants (same with other excess, shower water not yet hot enough). Showers can be quick, same with washing hands, face and brushing teeth.
    5. The planet and life is a gift – give back by saving the planet and the future!

    Nice post, David!

  • Mary F.
    April 9, 2015 1:53am

    The politics of eating leftovers, which containers to avoid, etc, is lost on me. Just give me a great slice of last nights pizza for breakfast and I’m happy! (leftover pasta fried up with eggs is pretty darn delicious too!)

  • Joelle
    April 9, 2015 2:01am

    Hello David.
    Thank you for your enlightening stories.
    As a french living in Japan, I can tell you that the leftovers are nearly a must as Japanese chef would think it a waste to throw away good food. So if you leave something in your dish, you do not have to ask, the waiter will put it immediately in a container like bentobox, and bring it to your table. Also japanese people order different dishes and put all in the middle of the table and everybody share, so you can better control the quantity. But mostly japanese people really enjoy to bring back home left over so they do not have to cook the next meal or they bring it as a gift if somebody was left home for any reason.
    So no problem. But the funny thing is that it is not common to bring back bottes of unfinished wine. But I do and when they open the bottle I always ask them to leave the cork so I can bring the left over home.

    As for bread, in Japan (I do not know about US) you pay for each portion of bread, so you may bring it home. But in France, at least years ago, the bread is served for free and you can ask for more and eat as much as you want without having to pay for it. So it is
    not welcome to bring the bread left in the basket as I am sorry to say they reuse it. I have seen the waiter adding fresh bread in a basket taken from an other table and you are served the left over with the new bread.

    Also you must think that the charges for the owners of restaurants in France are very heavy. So I guess it will be a new cost for them to provide doggy bags to customers
    except if they can charge the price of the container. I have had in France chinese food delivered to my place in plastics bags. It looked so disgusting that I could not eat it. In Japan food is delivered in plates, food is still hot and when you have finished you just put the empty plates on your door step and the delivery guy will pick it up next day. You do not even have to wash the dishes.

    So customs are different for every countries but I really think that the japanese way is good. You bring everything home ! and nobody ashamed, as I must say I was when I just arrived from France !!!! And also it is true that good education in France is that you do not leave anything in your plate and you do not mop with bread except in your home. May be that is why they have discovered the sauce spoons that did not exist when I was younger.

    I really enjoy your very french cooking recipes ! Thank you.
    Joelle

  • Bad Kitten On A Rampage
    April 9, 2015 4:45am

    Bon Soir, David!

    Long-time reader, first-time commenter here . . . we just returned from an amazing ten day trip to Paris (late last night in fact). It was my first time there and I’d heard that, unlike here in New Orleans, where portions can be generous and leftovers are no problem, that indeed when in Paris one doesn’t ask for les restes.

    But as you said, the portions were much more reasonably human-sized (perfect in fact) and when I wasn’t particularly hungry, I’d just order the two course menu du jour or even a la carte – which is a great option!

    The only time we took home any leftovers (as I too am from NorCal, raised there in the 70’s and 80’s by a single, working Mom who is a thifty New Englander by birth . . . so you we’re BIG fans of the leftovers) was from a charcuterie place in Rouen, which specializes in jambon, where their portions were ginormous. They even had fun pizza-type boxes with their logo on it for said leftovers (tres Americaine)!

    As a fellow Northern Californian living outside of there, I also struggle with the seemingly endless questions and conundrums put forth by trash, recycling and how we deal with (or don’t) our waste. On this trip to Paris, I was pleasantly surprised to see how relatively clean the streets were (with the possible exception of dog poo and cigarette butts) – as opposed to the U.S., especially here in NOLA, where I think our Mardi Gras culture encourages folks to just dump stuff on the street.

    Rather than fall down the rabbit hole of what to toss, what to save, what to recycle, etc. – which can be paralyzing – I try to model the Buddha’s Middle Way, and just do as much as I can to reduce, reuse and recycle while living life and enjoying it as much as I can.

    Excellent blog post, as usual, David – thanks so much for this, as well as for the other posts which helped us prepare for our trip and will help keep our newfound love for Paris alive until we can return there.

  • Heather T
    April 9, 2015 6:15am

    I fully love the comment about wrapping the dish in foil in Paris and bringing it back later. I had a similar experience in a French Bistro in California when I asked to buy a few extra deserts to take home for my children. They were already in glass ram-kins and would have been destroyed if we transferred the contents to a to-go container.

    So yes the owner wrapped them on in foil and we returned them 2 days later. :D

  • Sara
    April 9, 2015 7:02am

    When my husband and I get Thai or Indian take-out, we always bring our own tiffins and glass containers. I can’t stand styrofoam. Not good for baby sea turtles and other living things.

  • Gavrielle
    April 9, 2015 7:20am

    This is such a complex issue, and thank you for your discussion of it. I’ve been thrilled in recent years on visits to the US to see the initiatives in compostable containers and the like, yet shocked at so much food waste. (One takeout order in New York arrived accompanied by 17 packets of mustard!) Almost every portion I am served in the US is enough for two people and so much is thrown away. Taking home a doggy bag at least doesn’t waste the food, but on the other hand I suspect that the practice encourages overgenerous portions. Just one other point – when you’re agonising over whether you should buy food that has been shipped a long way (such as, ahem, from here in New Zealand), bear in mind that because of the eco-friendliness of shipping, there are fewer food miles involved in buying a New Zealand free range egg in Los Angeles than if it had arrived by truck from elsewhere in California.

  • cath
    April 9, 2015 7:22am

    1. traitor/traiteur, really funny!

    2. Quand j’étais enfant, ma mère rapportait les os de nos morceaux de poulet du restaurant pour nos 2 chiens. Comme il n’y avait pas de boite (pas de “boite pour toutou”, sniff) elle enveloppait le tout dans une ou deux serviettes en papier; Moi, évidemment, ça me faisait honte. ce n’est que 20 ans plus tard que j’ai découvert le concept “doggy bag”. Ma mère était une French pionnière, ah!

  • April 9, 2015 12:58pm
    David Lebovitz

    Gavrielle: Yes, there’s a lot of movement toward recycling and composting in the U.S., but on the other hand, some places gives you 5 pairs of disposable chopsticks (without asking), a stack of napkins, or 14 packets of mustard, automatically.

    Joelle: In the U.S., they’re not supposed to re-use or re-serve bread once it’s on the customer’s table. In France, they do reuse it and put it on the table, them remove it promptly once your main course is finished. (Unless you’re having cheese.) I know some countries charge for bread. I worked in a restaurant in America where we paid something like $5 or $6 per loaf of bread, and it was top-quality. People started asking for more bread, specifically to take it home, which was costing them a lot. They experimenting with offering bread for free, then if you wanted more, you paid $1.50 – but customers complained, so they ended up just raising the menu prices slightly to adjust for people taking home bread.

    eric: While it’s true the portions in French restaurants are generally smaller than those in America, I do find it curious that Americans come to France, and after a day or so of dining, are completely stuffed and can’t eat any more. There’s a French expression, Crise de foie, which means “liver crisis,” and refers to the maladie that one gets after eating too much, and drinking, which the French get, as well as visitors.

    ItalianGirl: Yes, on #2. Someone pointed out on another thread that all the stress of thinking of what to do about food can harmful to your health, too. So best to do what you can, eat a variety of foods, recycle, and encourage others to do the same by example.

    sybilleastrid: I find myself not eating out as much for dinner as I used to in France because I don’t like to eat that much food late in the evening. (Dinner usually starts at 8 or 8:30pm at home or in restaurants.) And I think that’s part of a shift in dining in Paris as well, as people are eating in restaurants serving a variety of cuisines more and more, such as in couscous restaurants, where you get one main plate of food, and those dubious sushi places that have sprung up all over Paris (which people like because they are cheap and the food is lowfat.) But places serving Indian, Korean, and other foods are becoming a lot more popular because they’re more casual and the food is less-rich.

    gail: It’s very discouraging to see people putting plastic water bottles in trash cans when the recycling bin is just next to it (although I’ve been told that they all get mixed together in the end when they empty the trucks, so it doesn’t really matter…), and the cigarette butts that could easily be put in ashtrays, but are even easier, flicked into the streets; I was talking to my neighbor outside our apt building one day and someone tossed a lit cigarette butt out the window that landed on her! And if you look at the sidewalk outside the schools after the breaks, there are literally thousands of cigarette butts left behind in the street and on the sidewalk. It may take a few generations for that to change. I know in the states we’ve had lots of public service campaigns to get people to change, like the “anti-pollution owl” – and the city of Paris is trying to curb people soiling the streets, as the posters I pointed out in the post show. So hopefully people will be a little more conscious of where they toss things, including mégots (cigarette butts.)

  • Bonnie L
    April 9, 2015 2:59pm

    Chez l’Ami Jean, in the 7e, plops down a huge bowl of their famous rice pudding (served family style) at the end of your meal when your tummy really can’t take any more. They pack up whatever is left – their idea! – in to-go containers, salted caramel sauce and all! Makes a great breakfast next morning.

    Two AA batteries and a necklace burnt a hole in my purse once. They get into mischief apparently if allowed to make contact. Hence the baggie requirement for recycling?

    I have a “Crise de foie” EVERY time we go to Paris! After all, I’m just not used to eating out every day. SO worth it though.

    • Ita Darling
      April 9, 2015 3:24pm

      Yes! Batteries can create heat when put in battery recycling containers. Normally they just tell you to use Cello/ Scotch tape on the ends so they can’t have metal to metal contact.. Lithium batteries in contact with normal cell batteries in a drawer or recycling container can actually start a fire!
      Safety FIrst!

  • JudyMac
    April 9, 2015 4:19pm

    My mother loved to eat good food and she loved to dine out. In her early 80’s she moved from a very small town to a city of a few million, with many opportunities to dine out. In most places I took her to, you could see her cringe when her order was set before her, and out came “I can’t eat all that!” It was the 1930’s mentality–you don’t waste food, and she knew that if she didn’t eat everything on the restaurant plate, it would be thrown out. And she couldn’t bear the thought of that. In many American restaurants, the servings are far too large, and if asking for a doggie bag puts one in an embarrassing situation … Well, it’s still a shame to see good food go to waste. And, of course, by now we’re all aware of the obesity situation in the US. I do believe an overstuffed plate results in an overstuffed tummy.

  • Jane
    April 9, 2015 10:39pm

    Hi David!
    Just wanted to let you know that the links in the second to last paragraph are broken; they all go the ‘not found’ page on your blog and the URL’s are variations on https://www.davidlebovitz.com

    Thanks Jane – I thought they had been ironed out but computer coding often eludes me (or goes rogue!) – thanks, I think I fixed ’em all. – dl

  • Susan
    April 10, 2015 2:30am

    Even in America, you will get strange looks if you ask for a doggie bag to hold something that you intend to give to your actual doggie. Like a big steak bone, or lamb shank bones.

    My sister experienced a sadder type of doggie bags when teaching in Hungary after the overthrow of the communist government. If you ate in a restaurant, old people would come through and collect bones off the diners plates to make soup. Took a while to get the economy back up.

  • April 10, 2015 2:30am

    Portions do bring out a certain amount of guilt. The take out does quite a bit to make you feel a lot better about not wasting. But when it piles, the brain needs to scramble for utility. Three course meals are quite something!

  • Lulu
    April 10, 2015 3:27am

    Why do you want france to be like Usa ? If french people doesn’t want that concept, because then dont need it, why do you want them to change ?
    Tourists with other nationality seems to be happy to meet different way to do, to be, ….so why some americans want to impose their way to see ? What would you think if french people would go in US and tell you how to do in your own country? so please, let french people eat what they want, do as they use to, and if you don’t like these habits , stay home, please
    In France , there is a sentence for that
    À Rome, fais comme les romains
    In Roma, do as romans

    • April 10, 2015 4:05am
      David Lebovitz

      I can’t answer for the organizations and movements in France, such as Trop Bon Pour Gaspiller, Gourmet Bag, TakeAway, DRAFF, and Pertes et Gaspillage Alimentaires that are promoting people taking food home, on whether or not French people want to adopt the concept of “le doggy bag,” but if the people in the country find it bothersome that they’re doing it, they should work to stop those organizations from trying to influence changes to the culture.

  • Violette
    April 10, 2015 3:42am

    J’aime lire vos articles et votre humour,mais le plus amusant sont les écrits des lecteurs….

  • Lulu
    April 10, 2015 12:16pm

    But I don’t Find It bothersome , i just find It unuseful.
    The pdf is very interesting and you can read that the average wasted food in restaurant is 200 g , and 60% of these provides from the Kitchen. So 80 g of wasted food….
    I use to eat oftenly in (good) restaurants, i am not a big eater, pretty “thin”, i never have crise de foi,and i never leave wasted food in my plate, neither people around me.
    So some societies ( not organisations but private societies) can try to sell glasses to blind men…but It doesn’t mean that It is Useful
    have a nice sunny day

  • Caroline
    April 10, 2015 5:13pm

    Great discussion. Every time I wash up a frying pan I wonder whether I ought to wipe it first with a paper towell or use extra soap to beat the grease! (That said, I always wipe it with paper first. But I still wonder)
    I live in France, have done since 1967. I was brought up in England and remembered rationing, so for me it is normal to finish my food, although I try not to always eat all of the French fries. And what’s wrong with wiping the plate with bread? Shows appreciation, although I might not do it in a chic French dinner.
    What’s all this about the French not appreciating left-overs? Foutaises!
    On the contrary, menus are engineered to provide the wherewithal for future meals.
    For example, you add in extra tomatos to a veau Marengo, et voilà, a great pasta sauce to stash away in the freezer in a handy Greek yoghourt container!
    The French call this ‘une recette à tiroir’.
    Love your blog, David, keep up the good work.

  • Katherine
    April 10, 2015 6:09pm

    Wow! You just took guilt to a whole new level. I hate to waste and refuse to eat massive portions. I do ask for doggy bags, but try to order appetizers or small plate meals when possible. Just read an article about how recycling plastic might go away in communities since recyclers can’t earn enough to make it worth their while due to low cost petroleum.

  • Cathy
    April 10, 2015 7:07pm

    Re: putting half your food in a container as soon as it’s served – it’s not necessarily disrespectful to the cooks. It is a recommended technique for weight control as it is well known that ppl will continue to eat even if they are getting full if there’s food on the plate. I might not do it an an ultra-fancy restaurant like the French Laundry, but I have no problems doing so discreetly at restaurants such as Ruth’s Chris. And at least in No. California, most waitstaff have applauded us for bringing our own containers in the interests of saving the environment (and saving the restaurant a few $$ in takeout containers).

  • KB
    April 11, 2015 12:03am

    Hi David! I have been following you for some time and really appreciate your point of view, especially about Paris. So I will be traveling to Paris for the first time in May and I was wondering about sharing food. The way I have overcome the doggy bag dilemma and because I want to try as many items as possible my partner and I share. Is this acceptable in France? So many little rules? I hear you aren’t supposed to touch things in the stores as well…true? I plan to order your book from Omnivore books too! Best cookbook store…I live in So. Cal so I don’t get there often enough. Thanks for the help!

  • April 11, 2015 12:30am

    Hi David! I’m huge fan of your cookbook “My Paris Kitchen”, but visiting your site for first-time! I appreciate your point of view. The way I grew up, we were supposed to finish everything in our plate and I’m still the same. Growing up, I hardly ever saw leftovers in kitchen, the next day. However, my kitchen’s story, now, is little different :) Any how loved reading your post today, great to learn about other cultures. Thanks for posting!

  • April 11, 2015 2:41am

    David, I love your cultural insights almost as much as your recipes. My British husband is not a fan of the doggie bag either — or really any leftovers at all — but even he makes an exception for leftover cold pizza.

  • April 11, 2015 4:53am
    David Lebovitz

    KB: Sharing isn’t really done in France all that much in restaurants, but it’s not uncommon to order one appetizer and two main courses. (Although not vice versa.) If you want to share or try a variety of things, I might suggest checking out a wine bar. The food is often served in taste-sized portions, and you can get cheese and charcuterie platters, which allow you to sample a wide variety of great French cheeses and meats.

    It’s also best not to touch things in smaller stores or at the outdoor markets. When in doubt, watch what locals are doing, and follow their lead. You can never go wrong if you ask first : )

    Cathy: As someone who’s cooked in restaurants, I was almost always happy to comply with someone’s wishes, especially if they were health-related. (The only time I couldn’t do it was when someone brought it a can of food that was part of a diet they were on and when I opened the can, it looked like dog food and I didn’t want customers seeing a plate of that coming out of our kitchen.

    I think it’s always best to tell the waiter/kitchen about your situation and ask if they can present you with a half-portion, and wrap the rest up. I know what goes into plating food and a lot of cooks take great care to do so. And I think that’s better than taking a plate that’s presented to you and scraping half of it off right away and into a container. It’s not an unreasonable request to ask the kitchen to send out a smaller portion.

  • April 11, 2015 8:02am

    I absolutely, really, truly, love left-overs. Australians of yesteryear were very careful about left-over food, carefully hording it, in the fridge, for BUBBLE ‘N SQUEAK, if it was vegetables, or cold meat with chips (eaten over a few days), if roast meat was left over after the traditional Sunday roast was eaten.
    These days, left-overs are (mostly) given short-shrift by the now-generation, who have (I think) more money and less concern about re-using left over food. It’s a pity really, as a lot of food (eaten the next day) is so much better than when it was originally put on the table.

  • Espen
    April 11, 2015 7:48pm

    Nothing wrong with leftovers – many meals are even better the next day. But only your own food, of course.

    The doggy bag concept is just cheap and embarrassing, and I get really annoyed whenever asked in the US. And I feel bad for the waiter having to ask.

    Thank god the idea isn’t catching on in Europe. A doggy bag in Paris? – yuk.

    • Jill Loorham
      April 12, 2015 3:29am

      Even when I go out (and I do – lots), if there’s food left on my plate (which is rare), I like to bring it home. After all, I have paid for it – and as I had intended to eat it, it is surely good enough to eat on another occasion.
      The term ‘doggy bag’ is awful I agree. And it is an embarassing way to describe left-over food purchased at a restaurant, hotel or cafe.
      As far as Europe, why not? People all around the world are variously rich, not so rich, not rich and very poor – and waste is a big problem on earth. Every little bit of effort to not waste (particularly food) is a good thing surely?

  • Jill Loorham
    April 12, 2015 3:32am

    I just thought of something else in regard to left-over food.
    A group of friends and I meet every two months, to have a wickedly-lovely lunch together. We all bring food to share (and numerous bottles of wine, of course).
    With everyone cooking up a storm, there is always a heap of food left-over.
    What we do after lunch, is share whatever is left – for our own private consumption at home during the next day or two.
    Maybe we should think up a new term instead of ‘doggy bag’? Although being practical about this name, most dogs eat whatever they can, whenever they can, wherever they can…. and good on them.

  • Emmeline
    April 12, 2015 4:24pm

    I’ll have a different explanation to those I’ve read above: in France, when you go to a restaurant, you don’t just go for the food, you go for the whole meal experience, including service, time in a nice room and with a peculiar atmosphere etc… I’m not familiar with the US, but it seems that things are more compartmented, since you pay on the one hand for [service], on the other one for [food & room].

    That could be part of the explanation: no doggy bag will allow you to bring home the “meal experience” which the French perceive as one single product, and it would be reductive (and potentially offensive) to imply that food is the essential component which can be enjoyed on its own back home. In the US way, it is less offensive to suggest that, since food is part of a “smaller” product, [food & room]

    But of course that’s only a theory

  • Espen
    April 12, 2015 7:03pm

    From my own experience I think you’re probably right, Emmeline – at least to some extent.

  • Barbara
    April 12, 2015 10:32pm

    It must be a long time since you have eaten in the US. The portion sizes here are astronomical. Better to request a half serving than attempt to eat it all just avoid Le doggy bag.

  • April 13, 2015 5:25am

    Hi David. I’ve been enjoying your emails from your blog and have been trying to change to my new email address. It’s included above. Haven’t had success so I hope this works. Thanks!! Maureen

    Hi Maureen: I checked and your email address is indeed in the subscriber base & you should be getting posts emailed to you as they are updated on the site. If not, check your spam folder and make sure they are not going in there. A few domains block “bulk” emails (AOL, Comcast…), although you are with Yahoo, and they’re not one of them. If you don’t get the next few, you might want to try an alternate email. But the database shows that you are already in there with this email address -dl

  • ron shapley(NYC)
    April 13, 2015 8:17pm

    Dave………..Very soon, styrofoam containers in NYC will be a thing of the past as will plastic grocery bags…………..Hurrah !!

  • Patricia
    April 15, 2015 4:23pm

    In Canada we love leftovers (I love it when it’s time for lunch and I remember that I have something yummy in the fridge). Local environmentalist David Suzuki (Vancouver) even brings his own containers to restaurants for leftovers! We can learn from his example I think, zero-waste! Also since last January there is a new bylaw here that food scraps must be used for composting or there are fees. I myself haven’t garbaged any in months.

    • Jill Loorham
      April 16, 2015 1:21am

      Canada, from a visit years ago (and from Patricia’s comments) is a progressive country. It seems to me that throwing away left-over food is an incredible waste, particularly as it can make particularly tasty meals during the next couple of days.
      Zero-waste is more than important. I’m most impressed that David Suzuki brings his own containers to restaurant for leftovers. Here in Australia, the whole ‘left-over food’ effort, in restaurants and cafes, is entirely at the owner or manager’s discretion, with various waiters and cooks hinting that they’re breaking the law if they provide a doggy bag. I think David’s Suzuki’s lead, in bringing one’s own plastic (re-useable) containers is the solution, particularly if we put the food into our container ourselves.
      We have the great (?) VEGEMITE in this country; a spreadable almost black gunk, that is spread on toast for breakfast (and other times!). It’s concentrated yeast with flavouring (I think, a by-product of beer making). Vegemite is an acquired taste which most non-Australians find disagreeable. The point in this additional out-of-left-field comment, is that Vegemite is a terrific use of what would otherwise be thrown out. Yo, left-over food!

  • Gabriele
    April 23, 2015 4:36am

    I have met a lot of designer pizzas which I didn’t like but meeting a friend for lunch, we tried a new place and their pizza was wonderful and more than enough. My friend had devoured all his crusts (of the half he had eater) but I saved mine so when we got the ‘to go’ container I said I wanted the crusts also. The waiter seemed suprised, so I told him the dough and crusts were so good I was going to make croutons from the crusts and make a salad to use them in.
    He came back a few minutes later to say that he had told the chef about the crust croutons and the chef thought it was a fine compliment which he appreciated.
    It was not empty praise, I’ve been baking bread for thirty plus years; while it may have seemed simple, the results spoke of much much more.

    I spent a lot of vacations in France and I found I lost weight there because the food was so satisfying. I remember a club meeting (other members were French) where the judgement of the meal was quick and final: No one finished their first piece of bread. The resto had one had a favorable rating from Guide Routard but under the new ‘bio’ chef they lost that…and customers and it closed. One hopes a more traditional chef returns…
    And returning to the place with the wonderful crust (and everything else) is something my friend and I will be doing…

  • Glorianne
    April 28, 2015 3:48am

    We ordered 2 plateaux de fruits de mer at Le Roof in Conleau. After a couple of hours of delicious eating and drinking we still had a mountain of seafood and crustaceans left. When I asked if we could take les restes, our waiter happily obliged and brought me a waiver to sign! Then the kitchen packed it up in two ice cream containers that they recycled for the occasion and gave them to us on our way out!

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