A few weekends ago before the demands of my program got ridiculously intense I managed to get to Paris for a quick day trip, have an exotic Dim Sum lunch, feel the dizzying after effects of MSG while scurrying around the most crowded Paris shopping mall during les soldes (Gallerie Lafayette + Prime temps, etc.). I know that Paris is the capital of the World in terms of shopping and it would make sense that 50% off sales in Paris would draw a crowd but I couldn't believe these crowds!! The safety sensor machine was going off every 2 mins as people exited stores and I literally felt a little like a lost little pigeon flying around chaos trying to find an open window to escape. Can't really believe I just compared myself to a pigeon but I felt like one... After dealing with parking disasters + the pouring rain with two handsome french men (one of which wasn't wearing a waterproof jacket and was thus soaked after 10 mins) we finally came to a cute pub off the St. Germaine (Cafe de Marche) in the 6th and were served a cold glass of Chardonay from a waiter in overalls :) (Ahhh almost like I was back in the US).
Chine Massena is a Dim Sum restuarant in Paris which can somehow serve up to 800 people (kind of the usual for Dim Sum). It's relatively traditional Dim Sum with a few carts going around and a menu you can easily order off of. I was lucky enough to be with a Cantonese speaking Parisian so we didn't have to ponder over the menu or look hopeless as we tried to pronounce dishes. The menu actually had noodle dishes and soups as well as Dim Sum and it was honestly hard to pass these up because there is nothing I love more than an Asian soup.. Yet, we settled on (Pork Buns- Brioche au porc, gao or shrimp dumplings wrapped in translucent rice flour, cheong fun and a few others).
The restaurant is located in a little Asian shopping mall and it was actually pretty fun walking around, trying a few random dishes, inspecting all the ingredients and frozen fish etc, watching groups of men gathered around a tv betting on horses and eventually buying a few lottery tickets to join in on the action.
Chine Massena was good but not great and didn't compare to San Francisco Dim Sum. It left me ridiculously thirsty and left Reza ridiculously hungry after an hour. Maybe Dim Sum is not so good for you after all.
I included some Wikipedia facts about MSG below b/c it kind of freaks me out a little....
13, Place de Vénétie
(at the level of 18, Avenue de Choisy)
Metro: Porte de Choisy
History of MSG:
Asian cooks have been taking advantage of glutamate’s flavor enhancing properties for centuries. It is unclear whether the Chinese or Japanese first discovered that a broth made from a certain type of seaweed enhanced the natural flavor of food. But it wasn't until 1908 that Professor Ikeda of the University of Tokyo first isolated glutamate from broth made with dried Konbu kelp. (He went on to create and patent Monosodium glutamate, or MSG).
How is MSG Made Today?:
Today, the MSG we find on store shelves is usually made from fermented sugar beet or sugar cane molasses, in a process quite similar to the way soy sauce is made.
Why is MSG So Popular?:
It all comes down to our taste buds. It has long been known that there are four basic tastes - sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. It is now thought that there is a fifth taste, called "umami." Umami is the savory taste that occurs naturally in foods such as tomatoes and ripe cheese. Just as eating chocolate stimulates the sweet taste receptors on our tongue, eating food seasoned with MSG stimulates the glutamate or "umami" receptors on our tongue, enhancing the savory flavor of these foods.
MSG Use in Cooking:
MSG is used extensively in Japanese cooking, where it is sold under the brand name Ajinomoto, and in Chinese restaurant food. MSG use, however, is not confined to Asian cuisine. Ajinomoto is a very popular seasoning in North America, where it is sold under the brand name Accent. Throughout the food industry, MSG is becoming an increasingly popular way to add flavor to packaged foods such as soups, sauces, seasonings, and instant snacks.
What are the Health Concerns?:
Many experts blame MSG for "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" - the headaches, dizziness, and chest pains some people experience after dining at a Chinese restaurant. There is a debate among the scientific community over whether MSG is the culprit. While the U.S. FDA states thatMSG is generally safe, it acknowledges the seasoning may pose problems for certain individuals. Specifically, asthmatics and people who can tolerate small, but not large, amounts of MSG may be at risk.
Should You Use MSG?:
Even if you don't experience negative side effects, is there any need for you to use MSG when preparing Chinese dishes? Again, the experts disagree. Some cooks argue that a well cooked meal using fresh vegetables doesn't need enhancing. Others do use it occasionally. However, I think I'll leave the last word on the subject to two experts. First, Irene Kuo, author of The Key to Chinese Cooking, considered by many to be the definitive guide to cooking Chinese food:
"While "taste-essence" is of Chinese heritage, it was never accepted by the elite society of gastronomy where cooking skill and lavish use of natural ingredients are the essence. Today's version is a chemical compound known as monosodium glutamate or MSG and to me it does nothing to enhance flavor. Rather it gives food a peculiar sweetened taste that I find absolutely distasteful, and for some people it has unpleasant side effects.”
Ken Hom, popular television chef and author of numerous Chinese cookbooks, has a slightly different view: "Scientists still are not sure how this chemical works, but it does seem to bring out the natural salt flavor of foods and can help revive or enliven the taste of bland food and old vegetables...The very best chefs, cooks, and restaurants, however, avoid MSG and rely instead, as they should, on the freshest and finest ingredients that need no enhancing." (From The Taste of China).