Despite the enduring popularity of Chinese cuisine, many still think of it as a down market food, more inexpensive takeout or delivery comestibles than world-class culinary tradition.
In Europe, at least in Germany and Switzerland, Chinese food is served in star-rated formal expensive restaurants. People visit these restaurants to dine rather than fill their stomachs.
It appears that railroad workers started Chinese restaurants in Canada after they completed the laying of the Canadian Pacific rail tracks. Often, the female cooked, and the man served, or vice versa.
Fine Chinese dining is available in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary if you make an effort to seek them out.
Chinese gourmets maintain, and there is some conclusive evidence to that effect, that the tongue perceives umami, in addition to sweet, salty, butter and sour.
This fifth sense was discovered by Japanese researcher Kikunae Ikeda who set out to discover the cause of intense dept of food ingredients such as seaweed. He called it umami (delicious) in Japanese. The tongue, researchers proved, has receptors to pick up umami a.k.a. M S G.
It comes from the building blocks of amino acids, and proteins, including glutamates and guanylates. They form when proteins (vegetable or animal) break down during the aging process, i.e Parmiggiano-Reggiano, prosciutto of Parma, Italy, Jabugo ham from Spain, Manchego cheese form Spain, just to name a few.
M S G is the pure form of umami manufactured synthetically in pharmaceutical plants, and Chinese and Japanese consume thousands of metric tons annually without any ill effect.
Some North Americans associate M S G with undesirable effects (palpitations, excessive thirst, numbness of some muscles), after an article was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (1968), yet there us not one shred of evidence that such side effects are caused. Some very sensitive individuals may be adversely affected, or those consuming inordinate amounts of it in their food.
After all, million of people consume M S G, and only a miniscule fraction of them report any discomfort.
M S G can be and is used in very small quantities as a seasoning like soy sauce, salt, or vinegar, and Chinese chefs know how to increase the flavour of chicken soup by adding Smithfield ham, or Westphalian ham or dried scallops, or tiny dried shrimps, all of which contain natural umami.
Young brilliant Chinese and Japanese chefs use M S G imaginatively, in miniscule quantities and to good effect.
Young and ambitious western chefs started experimenting with umami, and any may yet invent taste sensations we have never experienced.
Meanwhile, seek out fine Chinese restaurants and ask the chef to present you a menu to his liking. This may be a culinary experience beyond belief.