The funny thing about MSG

Monosodium glutamate and a sprinkling of Bali Belly.



One of the concerns a traveller has when trying new foods in a new city is having the City Belly – a reaction to foods eaten while sampling the variety of novel dishes available in a place. I’ve had Bangkok Belly, Delhi Belly, Da Lat Belly (and that one is a clunker because it doesn’t rhyme).

Usually in a new place, eating street food and drinking street coffee or smoothies, it’s advisable to avoid the ice.

But the causes of these City Belly conditions don’t always live in dirty ice. Sometimes all it takes is a little salmonella on a piece of fruit or raw vegetable that’s been out on the street too long.

When traveling it’s wise to avoid the ice, especially at street cafes. Photo by Noom Peerapong on Unsplash

In Bali, it is MSG.

The stomach cramps started three days ago, after the batik class and while we were waiting at a coffee shop drinking luwak coffee before our cooking class started. I think it was from lunch that day. While waiting for our batik creations to dry, we had had a late lunch of simple food, and I think the local cook sprinkled a bit of MSG into the dishes. So by the time we had finished cooking the five dishes at the cooking class that evening, I was miserable. It felt like someone was squeezing my stomach and wringing it like laundry.

For two days I had stomach cramps, headaches, nausea, lethargy, and rashes on my arms. Our guide gave me a local indigestion chewable tablet, and I chewed them all day while we visited Kusumba beach on the day after I got sick and yesterday, while we toured Jati Luwih, Ulun Danu temple on the lake and ended at Tanah Lot, the temple that is on the coast.

At first, we all thought it was a gastric hyperacidity. I get up early every day in the dark of dawn to write for a few hours before Gabi gets up like normal people. And usually, I drink espresso but do not eat until she’s ready to eat. So I can have a bit of a problem with acidity.

Today, Gabi woke up in the same condition I was in three days ago. We traced it to a vegetable noodle soup she had before our Tanah Lot visit – it had a lot of additives in the MSG.

She was feeling poorly last night and texted her best friends Ines and Tajana in their WhatsApp group about her Bali Belly.

Gabi: Antun and I have been struggling with MSG with its consequences on our sensitive bodies. First, Antun thought he was getting a flu from achy joints. Since this morning, I was thinking the same. Finally we realized that painful ankles, headaches and stuffy noses and tiredness are results of MSG.

Tajana: Maybe it’s because of high temperatures, humidity and age. Hahaha. But we also feel like this in Thailand right now.

Ines: It’s better to be tired from massage than from the flu. I have a headache from gin and tonic right now.

Tajana: Ina, MSG is that thing that they put in food in the East.

Ines: Oh, I thought it was an abbreviation.

Tajana: Monosodium glutamate.

Ines: Yes, massage.

We have been trying since today to avoid MSG-infused foods. For breakfast, we had banana pancakes, and today at lunch we had a – wait for it – wood fired pizza with rucola, cherry tomatoes and feta cheese.

We are happy that Bali Belly is behind us now as we end 2018. Maybe in two days, we’ll be happy belly Bali troopers again and will try the babi guling.




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