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Dec 14, 2000 01:12 PM

Outer Borough Bored?

  • c

Hasn't anyone eaten anything interesting recently?

I was at Tibetan Yak last night. Great stuff. We were the only folks there; it was us, the owners, and Al Gore on the projection TV. Maybe potential diners were watching the installation of the Bush regime at home.

My meal at the Yak made me wonder: I think Sripraphai, Tibetan Yak, and the late/great Tindo all use(d) tons of MSG in their food. Are chowhounds drawn to MSG, or is it just me? Do expensive, non-Asian restaurants use it? If some did and others didn't, would they be at a disadvantage?


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  1. We went to Tibetan Yak last Saturday for the first time. The food was good [potatoes and spinach, steamed vegetable momo, beef with chili, and lassi to drink], but we had our typical MSG reactions afterward: headache and dizziness. So, as much as we'd like to return, we probably won't.

    It would be helpful to know what MSG is commonly called in a variety of languages so that diners can get a more accurate response when they ask whether a particular restaurant uses it in anything. Of course, we still might not be able to avoid it in sauces or other items not made in the restaurant.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Lorna

      What's the problem with MSG? Doesn't it occur to anyone that the reason is shows up in so many Asian cuisines is that it is a fine flavor enhancer? A billion and a half Chinese, Japanese and Thai can't be all wrong, and this includes vegetarians.

      I know that some people get a hot-flash reaction to MSG, but there isn't a shred of evidence that it has any real harmful health effects. The convential wisdom is that it's bad for you, and so it has become the subject of a witch hunt for many years.

      1. re: Mark DiBlasi

        Chinese chefs use MSG as a shortcut, a way to achieve strength (though not depth) of flavor in their stocks without using quite so many chickens. And just because it is endemic does not make it right--the better stock will always be made in the old-fashioned, expensive, time-consuming way. MSG, while not the embodiment of evil, is nonetheless Not a Good Thing.

        1. re: Pepper
          Chris Armstrong

          I agree with Mark. I love MSG. When I was a kid and my family ordered Chinese food "with NO M-S-G!!" I knew I was in for a bland meal. Then again, your average Suffolk County take-out place isn't too exciting to begin with.

          If deliciousness if of the utmost importance, then I am more than willing to excuse its liberal application. But I still wonder if "fancy" restaurants like those discussed in the Manhattan boards (you know, "need a place for Aunt Faye's 80th Birthday celebration") use it... that might be considered cheating.

          Perhaps the MSG discussion should move to the General Topics board.


          1. re: Chris Armstrong

            For one thing, MSG is used in a lot more than "stocks".
            Asian cuisines are often wok (or fast-fry) centered, because they derive from densely populated places where fuel sources are precious. The "time consuming" aspect is usually in the preparation of ingredients, with a few notable exceptions (red-cooking in China is one).

            MSG actually adds a distinctive taste, and in my view is not a shortcut, although it may be used as such in
            dreary takeout places. But the food in those places is pretty awful anyway. There are 5 star Hong Kong chefs using the freshest seafood and veggies who use MSG.
            But it's use is now a part of the "brown rice/organic food is better" insanity. They don't eat too much brown rice in Asia either, a place where rice is, shall we say, important . You'll find brown rice only in American Chinese restaurants catering to Anglos who always seem to know better.

            1. re: Mark DiBlasi

              I'm not plumping for brown rice, for crying out loud. I'm the last person anybody would accuse of being a health nut. And I'll even admit that the kind of New York restaurants that ostentatiously boast of using no MSG are consistently worse than the ones that use tons of the stuff.

              But I insist, strictly on the basis of what M. Leff calls ``deliciousness,'' that dishes using MSG, a 20th- century invention that in fact has no taste of its own, are inherently worse than dishes that achieve the same depth of flavor through cooking techniques--many French chefs achieve the illusion of profundity in their sauces by enhancing them with bottled essences, but in practice the best chefs do not.

              It's like listening to an opera singer amplified through loudspeakers as opposed to an opera singer skillful enough to project her voice. Just because the one is all but universal now doesn't mean that the other isn't preferable in the end.

              1. re: Pepper

                Check out this website for myths surrounding MSG:
                I also recall that MSG is included in some commercial meat tenderizers that I'm sure is doused on the meats in Chinese restaurants - ever notice how beef & broccoli often tastes so flabby?
                I believe just too much MSG is used in Chinese restaurants - from the bottled and canned products that already contain it in addition to the quantities the chef pours in. Ruby

            2. re: Chris Armstrong

              I have only had two adverse reactions to MSG (I get a terrible pain on the side of my face, sort of like a migraine) in my entire life, neither from a Chinese restaurant! One was after eating at El Faro on Horatio St., the other from a meal at Carmine's. And I agree with Pepper, it is too often the tool of a lazy or overly frugal cook. For those of you in the other camp, Jeffrey Steingarten had an article a while ago in Vogue extolling the virtues of MSG.

              1. re: Chris Armstrong

                Hello, Chris

                Yes, this indeed belongs on our Gneral Topics board.

                FYI, we request the same action in the event of a wrong-posted thread as we do for a thread that has digressed to a topic unbefitting the board it's on:

                We request that you post a reply to the thread saying something like the following: "this thread really belongs on the XXX board; meet me there in a thread called XXX" and refer back to the old thread/board in the new posting...and simply continue there. Ideally, the first one to do so will be followed by the rest of the thread's participants. It's quite easy and effective.

                thank you