How A Messaging App Created An Illegal Market For Authentic Ethnic Ingredients

Looking for steamed dumplings in Los Angeles? How about vegetable wontons? Perhaps some stewed pork knuckles? Sure, you could hit up any one of the several chain restaurants in town offering adequate Chinese grub. But for immigrant communities, adequate is simply not good enough. Many of these individuals take their food seriously and are willing to go the extra mile to ensure its authenticity...even if it means potentially breaking the law.

According to Star2, WeChat is a Chinese messaging app in which a plethora of amateur chefs tout homemade takes on regional specialties. Basically, all users have to do is place an order, agree on a meeting place and pay for the bag of dumplings or braised pork belly. Simple enough, except for the fact that this exchange is technically illegal, thanks to the California Homemade Food Act of 2013, which allows for small-batch sales of some food items prepared in home kitchens. Being largely susceptible to food-borne illness, meat is prohibited.

And yet, more and more ethnic groups are resorting to services like WeChat — there are, of course, other apps catering to different ethnicities — to purchase a little taste of home. There's reason to believe that the demand has always been there, but the ease of procuring items via a mobile app has made it accessible for just about anyone. Groups on the app (capped at 500 people) promote specific interests. They facilitate social connection, create jobs and provide high-quality food for those who crave it. Genius? Illicit? Both? You be the judge. Just keep in mind that your opinion might change after trying a handmade extra-chewy dumpling overstuffed with beef and pickled cabbage.