Chinese Food Syndrome

Will is the one with his arms in the air like a crazy person.
Will is the one with his arms in the air like a crazy person.

Last Thursday night my husband took me to my favorite restaurant in all of Vienna: Wasabi Asia Grillhaus. I know it sounds crazy – an asian restaurant topping Austrian restaurants, but you have not had properly delicious fried rice until you try this place. It’s conveniently located a hop and a skip away from our apartment, and the restaurant itself is just across the street from Wurstelprater, an amusement park that is always a beautiful scene, especially in the summer time. The service is great, and for the last 6 months I’ve been attempting to befriend a waitress there who often seems to be in need of a friend. Basically this place has a lot going for it aside from its amazing food, but I digress.

Back to the other night. My husband took me to the restaurant on behalf of it being Valentine’s Day, and we hadn’t been yet since we’ve been back in Vienna. I ordered my usual Gebratener Reis mit Gemüse (fried rice with vegetables), my husband ordered whatever it was he ordered, and we ate happily – for a little while. Toward the end of our dinner, my husband began to feel overheated. Between the two of us he’s the one to often point out when it’s too hot in a store or in a restaurant, or in our home (an argument I rarely win), but this time it was obvious something was wrong. He started sweating and his face became flushed. Soon he was a little out of breath and very eager to pay and get home as soon as humanly possible. I felt fine.

My husband, desperate to cool off and lie down, went straight to the bedroom while I made plans to watch “New Girl”. Unfortunately FOX didn’t air any new episodes this week so I decided to read instead. After reading for about 3 minutes or so, the “feeling” – a feeling I’ve had twice before, both Chinese food related – started slowly spreading into my face and throughout my body. A minute later my vision blurred, my breathing became difficult, my face was numb and my head felt like it was shrinking while my brain was expanding. Like I said, I’ve been through this before, once in Vienna (same restaurant) and once in Croatia, but not to this degree. I wobbled into the bedroom and through wheezes told my husband, “Will! *heeeeeh* It’s happening again! *heeeeh* My face!” I fell down next to him and we laid in bed in multiple kinds of pain, contemplating the need of an ambulance. Concerned about our wellbeing but unable to figure out what on earth was wrong with us, Will rolled over to his phone and pulled up Google to try to solve our miserable riddle.

He typed “asian food face numb” into the search bar and up popped “Chinese Food Syndrome“, a reaction similar to an allergic reaction that is almost certainly but not conclusively connected to MSG, a chemical flavoring used in food. Symptoms include face numbness, sweating, headaches, difficulty breathing, flushing, etc. Bingo. So we had a bad case of CFS, and the website assured us there was no reason to go to the hospital. The site does say, however, that the only cure is to wait and let the reaction slip away on its own after some 2 to 3 hours. Will’s reaction faded pretty quickly. Mine stuck around for the full 3 hours. Happy Valentine’s Day to us.

Has this ever happened to anyone else? A bad reaction to MSG?


  1. This happened to me once. It was also at a Chinese restaurant and also in Vienna (different restaurant). My first thought was, “whoa, am I dying?”
    I’ve cut down on Chinese food since then 😉

    1. Same exact thought. The first time it happened I immediately started praying that I would at least die gracefully on the patio. Guess I’ll need to find a new favorite restaurant. Sorry you’ve suffered through CFS as well!

      1. It wasn’t nearly as bad as what you guys suffered, although it was frightening!

  2. This post was hilarious, Holly! Sorry for your misery, but I have never experienced this particular syndrome. I do believe it is highly probable that it’s connected to MSG. The Chinese places in the states hardly use it anymore. You may need to look for a new Chinese place in Wein that doesn’t use it…

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