Avoiding MSG overseas

By Carol Robles
This item appears on page 53 of the April 2013 issue.
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I am very sensitive to MSG. I also am diabetic and need protein. When I first went to China, in the 1990s, I took those little packages of peanut butter crackers with me. Other than that, I ate lots of boiled rice.

On more recent trips to China, I found that local establishments were catering to American tourists. Especially if you are traveling in a group, you will be taken to restaurants that do not add MSG to food. “Add” is the magic word, however, since packaged goods and sauces used in restaurants generally already have MSG in them.

Don’t take any chances. When you first meet your tour guide, tell him about your dietary requirements, then remind him before every meal.

Before your trip, go to a Chinese restaurant in your town and have someone there write the words “No MSG” in Chinese on a card for you. My card has the phrase in both a more formal style of the Chinese language and in a more casual form.

Make lots of copies of that card and carry them with you on your trip. Hand a card to each waiter at each meal. The locals I encountered all have been very nice about it. Tour guides take it seriously and will protect you. If the food is on a buffet, ask one of the staff to walk the buffet line with you to tell you which foods are safe for you. Be polite but firm.

To drive the point home, always ask where the bathroom is and say something like, “If there is any MSG in my food, I will become very ill.”

I also have cards in Thai, Japanese and other Asian countries I might visit. I used one in Japan in 2011.

Go and have fun. Don’t dwell on the MSG issue. Carry some US snack food you like and, depending on how MSG affects you, take medicine along. And remember to tip your guide extra for his help.

CAROL ROBLES
Salinas, CA

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I am very sensitive to MSG. I also am diabetic and need protein. When I first went to China, in the 1990s, I took those little packages of peanut butter crackers with me. Other than that, I ate lots of boiled rice.

On more recent trips to China, I found that local establishments were catering to American tourists. Especially if you are traveling in a group, you will be taken to restaurants that do not add MSG to food. “Add” is the magic word, however, since packaged goods and sauces used in restaurants generally already have MSG in them.

Don’t take any chances. When you first meet your tour guide, tell him about your dietary requirements, then remind him before every meal.

Before your trip, go to a Chinese restaurant in your town and have someone there write the words “No MSG” in Chinese on a card for you. My card has the phrase in both a more formal style of the Chinese language and in a more casual form.

Make lots of copies of that card and carry them with you on your trip. Hand a card to each waiter at each meal. The locals I encountered all have been very nice about it. Tour guides take it seriously and will protect you. If the food is on a buffet, ask one of the staff to walk the buffet line with you to tell you which foods are safe for you. Be polite but firm.

To drive the point home, always ask where the bathroom is and say something like, “If there is any MSG in my food, I will become very ill.”

I also have cards in Thai, Japanese and other Asian countries I might visit. I used one in Japan in 2011.

Go and have fun. Don’t dwell on the MSG issue. Carry some US snack food you like and, depending on how MSG affects you, take medicine along. And remember to tip your guide extra for his help.

CAROL ROBLES
Salinas, CA