How a Facebook group that started in response to anti-Asian sentiment turned into a culinary community

Laura Luu was on maternity leave at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, and what she saw happening to the Asian community worried her. The actress was hearing disturbing stories about anti-Asian sentiment regarding COVID-19 misinformation. Some were beating near their homes, with friends and relatives telling him of troubling situations in the city that targeted them as Asians.

Montreal Police confirmed what Luu had heard anecdotally: The number of hate incidents and hate crimes related to race or ethnicity increased exponentially from 2019 to 2020, and Luu did not want to sit still and watch it happen. She decided to launch two Facebook groups in parallel: the Groupe d’Entraide contre le Racisme vers les As Asiens au Québec (GECREAQ), and Local 88, a public page dedicated to supporting local Asian restaurants. .

“In ten days, groups were booming within the Asian community,” says Luu, noting that the Local 88 page now has nearly 11,500 subscribers, mostly from Montreal and the suburbs, but also from Toronto. Luu eventually left the administration of the GECREAQ page to invest more energy in Local 88. “I was afraid my favorite places would close,” she says. “With the rise of anti-Asian racism, Asian restaurants here have suffered more than average. I love to eat and I really missed going to these restaurants.

The name of Local 88 was decidedly optimistic from Luu. “Eight is a lucky number in China. And while it is not necessarily the same in other Asian cultures, anti-Asian racism primarily targeted communities of Chinese descent, ”said Luu. “Plus, Local 88 is easy to remember and pronounce in English and French.

Local food blogger Jason Lee (Shut Up and Eat) has deep roots in Montreal’s Chinatown – his ancestor’s grocery store is now Beijing’s restaurant – and echoes Luu’s concerns about the possibility of restaurants Asians are closing during the pandemic. “I always thought my favorite restaurant would be here forever. The anti-Asian situation in the pandemic shook me, to think that this might not always be the case, ”he told Eater Montreal.

Members of Local 88 use the page for everything from restaurant recommendations to tips on where to find specific dishes. Sometimes it’s the restaurant that creates the buzz, but more often than not it’s a crowdsourced response that highlights where to find what.

This is how Cindy Ha’s Au 14 restaurant began to receive more orders for their miniature bánh khọt, a pancake topped with pork and shrimp. One of the city’s first Vietnamese restaurants, Ha feared their regular customers would forget them during the lockdown. “Local 88 reminded everyone that we were here, that we were open, and that we had the dishes that would meet those comfort food cravings. I can see this whenever I post information about a new dish or someone recommends a restaurant dish on the page – like bánh khọt – because our orders are increasing.

Eric Ku from Dobe and Andy from Chinatown echoed Ha’s observations on the page. “It’s definitely a good platform to keep the community up to date with the new dishes we’re offering,” he says. Chanel Dai of Teochew Foodie says it’s a good platform to promote the products because its members are interested in learning more about Asian cuisine. And the community also brings its expertise. In one case, local Asian food writer Victor Yu shared information about poon choi, a special Cantonese dish for the Chinese New Year holidays, which Luu says has generated interest and sales for them. restaurants on the South Shore and Chinatown.

Restaurants may post information on specials and promotions at any time, subject to moderation by Luu and his team of administrators. Twice a week, door-to-door vendors are allowed to share information on everything from specialty fruits (rambutan, dragon fruit, and durian, among others), wagyu beef and seafood, to Thai, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese foods. (However, promoting homemade sushi is not allowed due to health and safety concerns with raw fish.)

Buying from home cooks is a tradition for Linh Le Kim, whose own pop-up Ä‚n Chè, specializing in classic Vietnamese desserts, was featured on the page. “There is an informal economy called đặt in Vietnamese,” she says. “It literally means ‘order’: a grandmother will prepare food for her family and have extra lots of food to sell next door. It’s the kind of thing I’m looking for on the page, and there’s always something going on.

The inclusion of home cooks and suppliers is viewed as positive by most members, even some restaurateurs. “I like that it’s really a restaurant, but they allow others who sell in parallel to post on certain days,” says Dobe and Andy’s Ku.

“The page has become a loudspeaker for what’s going on in the community,” says Jason Lee. “People are also sharing other information on the page, like when there was a break-in at restaurants in Chinatown and Dak Hing on Van Horne, this news was shared on Local 88 and it raised awareness about it. happening in the community. “

From local news to dalgona candy and bubble tea, Local 88 is a treasure trove of information and voices. “For me, the page serves two purposes: to promote our community and to remind us that there are many restaurants to discover that you may not know or think about,” says blogger Lee. “In the end, you can’t necessarily rely on someone else’s business other than our own.”

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