M… S… G. Ugh. Those three letters (together and in that order) strike fear in my stomach.
In fact, all the women in my family are allergic to MSG, AKA monosodium glutamate. No, wait. Sorry. According to the FDA, there’s no such thing as an allergy to this insidious ingredient, so I’m supposed to say I’m “intolerant”. Whatever. All I know is, my night is going to be very unpleasant if I consume it.
We MSG-intolerants don’t get the same amount of press as those who must avoid, say, peanuts or gluten¹; and to be fair, I don’t recall ever reading that our intolerance is potentially life-threatening (though I’ve had glutamated nights where I wished I’d just die already). At the same time, we are sensitive to an artificial substance that is wholly unnecessary in quality cooking. I mean, just look at three of the biggest culprits likely to contain MSG: flavor enhancers, preservatives, and meat tenderizers². If you’re using fresh, quality ingredients – if, as HF is fond of saying, there’s actual food in your food – why would you need these things? Even if you’re not intolerant but just care about the quality of what you put into your system, MSG is something to monitor.
So I always like to reward/punish restaurants for avoiding/using MSG by spreading the word via Twitter and e-mail. Like an ant scouting for food, I send word back to my MSG-wary family and supportive friends: “Hey, this is a safe place to eat! Support them!”
But there’s more to it than just, “Are they using MSG?” There’s also a lot to be said for how the staff handle the question. To that end, and as a way of keeping a record for myself, I’m going to be posting more detailed “reports” here on what I find. Beginning with Chili’s and Tony Roma’s.
Chili’s, location forgotten (possibly St. Louis Park or Bloomington, MN)
Several weeks ago, HF, HM, and I had stopped at Chili’s for dinner and I noticed a new soup (Chicken & Green Chile) on the menu that sounded absolutely delightful. But as noted in the footnotes, soups are a potential danger zone, so I asked the server if she’d go ask after the ingredients. She very pleasantly agreed and disappeared briefly.
She returned with a grin to report that Chili’s is a completely MSG-free zone. Five gold stars to them!
And I’m happy to report that the chicken and green chile soup was, indeed, delicious.
Meal: Chicken & green chile soup; Carribean salad
Allergen Chart: Quite comprehensive, but does not include MSG. Available here.
Tony Roma’s, Mall of America (MoA), Bloomington, MN
Last night, due to possible inclement weather, HF and I moved our scheduled walk to the mall, circling each of the massive MoA’s four floors. Afterwards, we stopped at Tony Roma’s for dinner. The soup of the day was clam chowder – cream-based soup – cue the alarm bells.
I love clam chowder, but I have to be very careful about it. So I asked our server (Emily) to look into it for me. While she was gone, I realized I should have asked about the barbecue sauces, if they used any meat tenderizers, seasonings, etc. (steakhouses and other restaurants whose emphasis is on meat can be such fun). When Emily came back, she told me she’d talked to her manager and that they hadn’t seen MSG listed on the soup’s label, but she wasn’t completely sure of its absence. I proceeded to ask her about my other concerns, and she very politely excused herself again to investigate.
The next person to appear at our table (whose name I did not catch) had all the appearance of being the aforementioned manager. She was extremely friendly, patient, and helpful, asking me to give her a list of all my potential concerns and she would personally go check them.
When the manager returned, she went through my list one-by-one: The baked potato soup has no MSG (hmm, she didn’t mention the chowder or French onion, though I asked after “the soups”). Neither do the barbecue sauces. The seasoning used on the meat, which can be left off, is simply a mix of (if I recall correctly) garlic, salt, and pepper. I think there might have been a couple other foods discussed, but they’re slipping my mind.
All in all, I was very pleased and impressed with the attention paid to my concerns and the patience exhibited by the staff. This set my mind at ease, enabled me to enjoy my meal, and I’ve seen no sign of a reaction, so I’m confident they were correct in their findings.
Meal: TR’s Riblings w/Carolina Honeys sauce; roma tomato pesto salad; mashed potatoes
Allergen Chart: Seems to be nonexistent. They do, however, have a feedback form that I just used to give glowing feedback about Emily and her manager. And I suggested they make an allergen chart available.
1 If you or someone you know is a celiac or want to/must otherwise avoid gluten, I highly recommend Roger’s Celiac Travel site. In addition to gluten-free recipes and lots of information, there are free cards in multiple languages (47 at the time of this post!) that you can print out to provide to restaurant staff explaining your needs. (If you have an iPhone/iPod, there’s also “an app for that”!)
2 Other likely danger foods include: soups and salad dressings, especially cream-based; seasoning mixes, such as those used on meats or french fries; flavored chips (Doritos, Cheetos); boxed meals like Pasta-Roni… Frozen stuff is usually okay, but I read a lot of box and can labels.