Written by Vibhu Gairola
“It didn’t make me angry, but it did make me think: when I go to my friends’ homes, what we eat is not necessarily a burger and fries or the things I saw in stock images. It’s jollof rice and injera, the things you don’t see as often.”
People from all over Toronto agreed to help out and be part of her photoshoots, and a fast-growing community soon gave her what even the internet itself couldn’t provide.
Black Foodie explores food through a black lens, and is a resource for anyone seeking an insider’s perspective on authentic cultural foods and experiences. Hagos got the idea to start exploring restaurants in her own community early in 2015; she herself is of Ethiopian descent, but the website’s catalogue soon expanded to include as many African and Caribbean eateries as she could find. “I’ve always loved food, but I wasn’t connected to it,” says Hagos, who is an alum of the MaRS Discovery District’s Studio Y program. Through Black Foodie, she has created a space for both black communities seeking their cultural food and enthusiastic gourmands in general.
People proved hungry for what Hagos was serving. “When I would post photos on my own social media, people started tagging their friends or even messaging me asking for more information,” she says. Readership and the team of collaborators grew through direct messages on Instagram and Twitter, and currently, her team of 40 contributors writes about anything from the Haitian soup joumou to Sudanese mahshi.
Black Foodie has a generous list of recipes, but Hagos personally is always more enticed by contributors sharing their stories and personal connections to food, from how they make something to what it was like growing up in a certain neighbourhood. “I’ve met food bloggers and stylists in positions I didn’t even know existed,” Hagos says. “It’s really interesting to meet creatives in the food world who are making a living without fitting into a box. People make money solely online and through events, and they might not look like traditional paths, but they can lead to amazing results.”
From chefs to food photographers, those who have helped out invariably do it because they believe in the Black Foodie mandate: they want to see more representation and they want to help achieve it. Hagos herself has expanded her list of favourites, including Dundas West’s Le Baratin and Simone’s Caribbean Restaurant in Greektown.
Her advice for startups is to keep exploring different parts of the city, so that you can keep discovering new shared spaces. “Test out your ideas immediately,” she says—especially with food entrepreneurs, feedback in the early stages can help you perfect your product, and it was only through regular meet-ups with others that Hagos figured out what her target audience would really want.
Plans for the future include larger events (to focus on the experience of eating cultural food itself), more yummy online content and seeking corporate sponsorships to help with it all. Hagos is also going to roll out video content soon to amplify the Black Foodie experience. “I am passionate about telling stories through food,” Hagos says. “When I see people trying a new chef’s food or learning how to eat what they haven’t tried before, that positive reaction, or even an Instagram photo going up, is when I know that this is what I should be doing.”