Despite the many barriers threatening the survival of Montreal’s Chinatown, many are buoyed by signs of revitalization. Gastronomy, a new generation and partnerships are giving hope to those in the area.
“The food scene in Chinatown is eclectic,” explained food blogger Jason Lee.
“We’ve got old-school Chinese restaurants, we’ve got up-and-coming restaurants, we have restaurants from mainland China, we’ve got Vietnamese restaurants – we’ve got pretty much anything you can imagine.”
Still, Lee said it has been tough in the last few years.
Restaurateur Joe Lee agrees.
“There’s not many traditional Cantonese left,” he pointed out. “Why? Because a lot of the chefs are getting older and it’s really hard to replace them.”
His restaurant, Mon Nan at the corner of de la Gauchetiere and St. Dominique streets, has survived for 40 years because he was willing to take over after his father died. He said the consistency keeps people coming back.
“Just the traditional Cantonese dishes,” he said. “Just the staples.
Edward Ku and his two brothers at Dobe and Andy on St-Urbain and de la Gauchetiere streets also took over after their father passed away.
According to Ku, their business is growing in ways they never expected partly because they don’t always stick to traditional cuisine. They aim to be more modern.
“If my dad was here seeing what we’re doing right now, he wouldn’t be too happy with us,” he laughed.
He said they experiment a lot using elements from other cultures.
“We like eating spicy things so we infuse different kinds of spices,” he said, “whether it be even Jamaican spices.”
People in the food industry, like Lee, say increasingly a mix of the traditional with the modern is the trend in Chinatown cuisine.
“Groups of restaurateurs, younger generations, who are coming in renting the properties, buying the properties to put a spin on Chinatown,” he observed.
Winston Chan, committee member for the group Inclusive Revitalization: Present and Future of Chinatown, noted that recent initiatives with the City of Montreal to help revitalize the area include plans to help the restaurant industry.
“Such as the Asian Night market at the corner of St-Laurent and René Lévesque boulevards,” he said.
That happened last August he hopes there will be another this summer.
Another project this winter with the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM) raised more than $100,000 for local restaurants and businesses with gift cards.
For anyone who bought a $30 voucher on the La Ruche website, the Chamber added $20 to make it $50 to spend at participating businesses. The sales of the gift cards ended in December but according to the CCMM, people have until the end of the year to use the cards.
Montreal city councillor Robert Beaudry said there are other plans in the works.
“We are also going to work on the creation of a commercial association, and see what cultural events we can hold to promote the Chinatown,” he told Global News. “It’s going to be evolving with the population to prioritize what we can do.”
It is projects like these, say community members, plus investments in social and cultural programs that will help Chinatown preserve its heritage.