Chinese food whips all kinds of ass and there are countless dishes from the region, as well as variations of them created here in the West, that people fucking love. If you happen to be one of the people that loves a bit of Peking Duck or Dim Sum you may be surprised and annoyed to learn that the Chinese restaurant industry was almost crippled by a single letter written by a guy with a stomach ache.
To explain for about 6 decades now there has been a persistent and unfounded rumour that eating vast quantities of Chinese food can cause something dubbed “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome“, a mysterious and peculiar malady said to cause everything from headaches to heart palpitations.
Before we get into it’s supposed cause, it’s worth noting that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that this “illness” exists, which hasn’t stopped countless sources including the fucking dictionary reporting on it as if it does. Something many Asian people understandably want to change because, to put it simply, it’s racist as fuck. Like, early Disney levels of racist.
So how exactly did we get to a point where some people legitimately think that shovelling an excessive amount of Chinese food into your mouth can cause a heart attack? Well believe it or not it’s all the result of exactly one guy who kept getting a stomach ache when he ate too much of it. Specifically a man called Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok who in the 1960’s penned a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine complaining that whenever he ate too much Chinese food he’d feel like shit. A sentiment that is true of any kind of food but Dr. Robert felt was the result of the large amount of MSG present in Chinese food.
One thing Dr. Robert failed to include in his letter though was any evidence that this was the case, which didn’t stop a bunch of other doctors writing in to claim that they had also experienced something similar. A response that is believed to be the result of said doctors misinterpreting Dr. Robert’s letter as a joke as it was apparently common for doctors to make up bullshit terms for random, inane things like brain freeze or entirely new fictitious maladies like cello player’s scrotum.
As it would later turn out, Dr. Robert was dead serious. Like he was laughably, comically wrong, but he really did think there was something in Chinese food that made him sick, or at least he did according to his daughter. However, discerning whether or not Dr. Robert was serious is quite difficult because another doctor called Howard Steel later claimed that he made the whole thing up for a joke and that he penned the letter to win a bet. Claiming that he made up both Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok and his credentials of being a researcher at the National Biomedical Research Foundation. With Steel going as far as to say that the place didn’t exist and that, that should have been proof enough for anyone to know that the letter was a joke.
The problem is the National Biomedical Research Foundation does exist and a guy called Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok did work there in the 1960’s. Leading people researching this to conclude that Steel inexplicably decided to claim authorship of the letter seemingly just to be a massive dickhead.
We say this because despite there being no evidence of this illness existing, papers as prestigious as the New York Times reported on it as fact for years leading to a massive downturn in business to Chinese restaurants across the US for decades. In addition, the public perception of MSG, a simple flavour enhancer literally invented to help poor people enjoy decent tasting food, to crater to the point people still don’t trust it half a century later despite countless studies proving that it’s not only safe, but makes even the blandest foodstuff taste like it was seasoned with an angel’s dandruff.