On Saturday night I went to Golden Century in Sydney’s Chinatown around 10pm. Usually Golden Century is absolutely packed at that time – sometimes you can’t even get a table. We were probably one of 10 tables. Even as late as 2am on Sunday, it’s usually busier than that. That’s why I decided to say something on Instagram.
I live in Chinatown, so I know how busy the restaurants usually are in my area. I don’t know if it’s xenophobia, but that’s the only reason I can think of to explain why these restaurants are so quiet – especially after Chinese New Year, when it should still be busy.
Trade in Chinese restaurants is down right now, by up to 50 per cent in some cases, and in others even more. Shark Fin House, a Chinese institution in Melbourne that opened in 1989, just announced its closure after sales dropped 80 per cent. In Adelaide, that’s been the case for several restaurants already, meaning lay-offs and uncertain futures. Even if restaurants haven’t yet shuttered, many have been forced to let go of staff because of dire patronage.
I spoke to Junda Khoo, chef-owner of Malaysian restaurant Ho Jiak in Haymarket, who’s a good friend of mine. He’s experienced a 40 per cent drop in sales. And Ho Jiak is probably the busiest restaurant in Chinatown, apart from Golden Century. A chef from another restaurant nearby told me they’re usually really busy this time of year. They’re currently doing 20 covers for lunch and dinner. This is just not sustainable for these businesses, many of which are independently owned.
It’s time for people to get back into these restaurants and support their local community before it’s too late for some of these eateries. And I should mention: it’s a great time to be eating lobster, too. Usually 90 per cent of live lobster in Australia gets exported to China, but because of the export ban on Australian seafood to China right now, it’s almost half the price. Dine in and support the Chinese restaurants, and support the fishers whose livelihoods rely on an export trade with no reopen date set yet. Most Australian diners don’t usually have access to live lobster – it’s too expensive. But at the moment, it’s more accessible than ever.
So let’s support our local Chinese and Asian restaurants. Please don’t let the fear of coronavirus take over your life. Understand the facts about how transmission occurs – there’s no reason to avoid Chinatown. Restaurant trade is down. Staff are being laid off. And some of your favourite spots may have already shut down. We need to keep eating at Asian restaurants. And if you don’t do it for them, do it for the cheap lobster.