The Origins of Maggi
I grew up with a German mom who always wielded a bottle of Maggi, that ubiquitous MSG-ish seasoning used in soups, gravies, roasts, anything you can think of.
To my surprise, my new roommate, who's Vietnamese American, brought a ginormous bottle of Maggi to our kitchen. He said his family always used it and it was always referred to as soy sauce.
Interestingly, another old roommate, whose mother was also Vietnamese, also had a bottle of Maggi hanging around.
It was my understanding that Maggi was German/European in origin, but now I wonder if there is some polygenesis going on here. Where does Maggi come from? Who makes it? Why the popularity?
"Where does Maggi come from? Who makes it? Why the popularity"
Maggi is a Nestle product - see link below.
Nestle is a Swiss company headquartered in Vevey, Switzerland, with worldwide offices. Hence the widespread availability of its products. Its founder, Henri Nestle, was German but settled in Switzerland.
I'm from SE Asia where Maggi was and still is a very popular seasoning.
Its popularity? probably because of its addictive taste and cos it goes well with so many foods.
I first encountered Maggi in Mexico. I live in SF and had seen Bahn Mi sprinkled with it, but it seemed much more widespread in Mexico. I bought a bottle of Spicy Maggi, which isn't much different from the regular. Then I realized, when I got back home, that it was in all my local Asian markets. I think of it as an all-around flavor enhancer. I don't think it has MSG, but I could be wrong. Anyone want to explain why it gives that "umami?"
I grew up in Hong Kong and there was always a bottle of Maggi in the fridge. We used it for 'western food' like we would use soy sauce for Chinese food. So if we were having spaghetti with meat sauce or chicken a la king, we would sprinkle a few drops of Maggi at the table.
It was heavily advertised in Hong Kong. "Just a few drops of Maggi will make your food taste wonderful" or something like that. The other popular Maggi product is the chicken stock cube. As far as I remember, Maggi sauce sold in Hong Kong and also New York Chinatown was always manufactured in Switzerland.
I found the following info on nestle's web sites:
Julius Michael Johannes Maggi, the companys founder, was born on the October 9, 1846 in Frauenfeld, Switzerland. He was the oldest son of an immigrant Italian and a Swiss national. In 1863 he developed a formula for bring added taste to meals, which would later become lead to the beginning of Maggi and convenience food products.
Maggi merged with Nestlé in 1947.
translated: Maggi sauce is made from fermenting pure natural wheat. It is so tasty that only a few drops are needed to add flavours to your food. Created in 1886, Maggi sauce is suitable for cooking fish, meats, seafoods, and vegetables to enhance the flavours.
re: Diner on 8th
Just a warning that there is imitation Maggi being sold in many Asian markets - it looks exactly the same and even has "Maggi" on the label. You can tell the difference because they are lower priced and are produced in Asia, whereas the original (and much more tasty stuff) is made by Nestle and produced in Switzerland (and is more expensive).
Check out the interesting linked article by Andrea Nguyen. Gives more background info and link to its popularity among the Vietnamese. Also ends w/ a few recipes.
According to the article, Maggi was likely brought into Vietnam by the French and, in the past, represented "upper crust" social status in Viet homes. My mom used to use it when I was a kid IIRC, but she doesn't have it in her pantry today. I've never adopted its use in my own cooking, although now I wonder if I should get my hands on the real Swiss stuff...
Great piece on Maggi sauce was broadcast on Public Radio International's "The World" program yesterday. I had no idea how popular the sauce is worldwide. The piece interviewed people with roots in Burundi, Poland, Mexico, the Philippines, and Austria who all said that they associated it with classic home-style cooking from their family's part of the world.
"At Maharlika, a Filipino restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village, Maggi gets a place at the table, alongside bottles of spicy vinegar. Maharlika plays on Maggi’s kitschy, cult status back in the Philippines."
This was my favorite part of the piece:
"When I tell her it doesn’t come from Africa, she’s kind of disappointed. 'My dreams are shattered,' she said. She can’t quite believe it’s true. 'Now I really have to wonder, how did African food taste without Maggi? How did it taste before Maggi arrived?' she said, laughing."