China Elevator Stories

MSG Wars at Christmas

While I’m in the kitchen looking for the right spices, I find MSG hidden behind other spices.


Ruth Silbermayr-Song


For Christmas Eve 2013, I prepare a simple Austrian Christmas dish – sausages with sauerkraut and potatoes. I am pregnant two months with our first child, and live in Shenzhen with my husband, with his parents staying with us for a few weeks.

While I’m in the kitchen looking for the right spices, I find pure MSG hidden behind other spices. I show it to my husband. He gets angry and starts a fight with his dad. They agreed that we won’t use MSG at home. We both think that MSG is unhealthy and  unnecessary, but his father thinks that food doesn’t taste good without it. They argue for a while. My father in-law states that he has eaten MSG his whole life (I don’t know how that makes it any better and honestly, I can’t imagine that MSG was in use widely in China for the last 60 years, but feel free to prove me wrong). My husband is mad not just because of the MSG, but rather due to the fact that his father has hidden it so we won’t find it. Not only that, he thinks a father should be a good example for his children and with his father being the first one in their family who said that MSG is unhealthy way in the past, buying MSG and hiding it from us is simply something my husband doesn’t approve of.

In the end, my husband says: “If you really cannot live without MSG, let me at least buy you the best MSG there is.” And he sits down before his computer to look for a Taiwanese brand that extracts MSG from plants. He buys a kilo of MSG – which would probably last for whole a year considering that neither I nor my husband would use it.

When it’s time to eat dinner, I sit at the table with my in-laws, my husband sitting in front of the computer, with both his father and him not willing to eat at the same table, giving each other the silent treatment.

I’m the only one who actually eats the Austrian dishes. My father in-law only eats dishes he knows and my dishes don’t fall into that category. He sticks to plain white rice and simply adds sauce to it. My mother in-law at least tries the dishes and eats a little sauerkraut with potatoes and rice.

When I lie in bed later that evening, my husband apologizes to me. He then eats dinner alone, helping me finish the sauerkraut and the sausages. He doesn’t really like Austrian sauerkraut, but he eats it because he knows that this is a traditional Austrian Christmas dish and that he’ll probably come across it for many more Christmases to come.

His father doesn’t talk to him for three more days. After that, things are seemingly back to normal. The only thing that seems to be out of the ordinary is a box with natural MSG lying untouched on the floor of our apartment.

On a side note: The Chinese translation for MSG is 味精. You can ask restaurants in China to prepare your meals without MSG, but oftentimes, restaurants can’t leave it out because they have prepared meals in advance. We often ask restaurants to leave out MSG and chicken bouillon, which would be 鸡精 in Chinese.

Have you ever argued about MSG?