The Oyster pail, Chinese food box or Chinese takeout container is a folded paperboard container, traditionally with a wire handle (the wire handle has become less common in recent years because metal cannot be used in the microwave ovens often used for reheating the food today), serving as a portable container for hot or cold prepared Chinese food, and most often used to bring home take-out food from a restaurant.
The container has the advantage of being inexpensive, durable and fairly leakproof. The top usually includes a tab so that they are self-closing. The folded construction also allows for some escape of steam
from hot food. If care is used to remove the flaps,and the sides are unfolded.The container can also double as a plate. It is exclusively used in overseas Chinese cuisines
outside of the Far East
The paperboard oyster pail was developed in the early 20th century at a time when fresh oysters
were more popular, more plentiful, and less expensive than they are at present. Since shucking oysters (removing the meat from the shell) takes some amount of skill and can be difficult and dangerous, it was common to have the oyster seller open the oysters so they could be taken home for use in cooked dishes. The oyster pail provided an inexpensive and sanitary way to accomplish this. However, in the mid-20th century, overfishing (and the subsequent rise in price) of oysters left manufacturers with a significant number of unsold oyster pails.
Fortunately, after World War II, there was a huge increase in interest in prepared foods that could be purchased from restaurants and heated or finished at home. Chinese food proved to be a popular choice in the United States, since it was tasty, unusual, fairly inexpensive and traveled well. The oyster pail was quickly adopted for "Chinese take-out." The paperboard pails were to some extent self-insulating and they could be used for a wide variety of foods: packed with dry cooked rice, moist dishes such as egg foo yung and sauced dishes, though very hot highly liquid dishes such as soups were generally unsuitable.
The oyster pails are now made in standard sizes and also serve as self-measuring containers, so many take-out foods are sold in pints
and packed into a pail of appropriate size.