Nori De Vega with her two basenjis, Anouk and Klaus

From egg roll cross-sections to handfuls of beautifully layered sandwiches to whole branzinos and piles of noodles picked up with chopsticks, it’s easy to love the food photos Nori De Vega posts on her Instagram page, @nomnom_nori. She’s undoubtedly sparked gotta-have-it-now food cravings across Portland, posting new and old restaurants and food carts, hidden gems and well-known favorites alike. But there’s more to her page than food photos. She uses the platform to support local chefs—today’s Instagram stories called for appreciation of Erica Montgomery of Erica’s Soul Food and Gregory Gourdet of upcoming restaurant Kann. She asks followers to support small businesses and spreads awareness of issues affecting local Black, BIPOC, and AAPI communities.

She’s even used Instagram as a way to connect with other Portlanders with Filipino roots—she and two others started a Filipino supper club pop-up, Tikim, last fall. (I can vouch for the fact that she makes a mean Filipino spaghetti, even driving to Seattle to source her preferred bright-red Filipino hot dogs.) We talked with De Vega about building community, making friends on Instagram, and of course, her favorite places to eat.

Portland Monthly: How long have you had your food Instagram?

Nori De Vega: I've had Instagram since Instagram became a thing. But I didn't start a specific food one until summer of 2019, and I didn't really lean into it until 2020.

I have always really loved eating out, and the larger my budget became, the more I was able to frequently eat at Portland restaurants. Anytime anybody visited Portland as far as my friend circle, I was always the go-to to know where to go. And home cooking has always been one of my passions. But I’d rather show what Portland has to offer, as well as when I travel—my itinerary is always based around where I’m eating, and my meals are always completely planned out. 

What made you start posting more regularly in 2020?

Much of it was the worry that our restaurants would close. Especially since we had just bought a home literally a month before the shutdown in Montavilla, and places like Lazy Susan, for example, quietly opened during the pandemic right in March. I just wanted people to know what's out there, what's even open, who offers good delivery. But also, I wanted to have a platform so people would be encouraged to support their local restaurants, because it's been a scary time. It still is. 

What are some of your favorite places you’ve eaten at in the past couple months?

Any of Earl Ninsom’s restaurants. They make up most of my budget. The Gado family, Oma’s. I’m at Magna a lot. Sunrice, Baon, Matta, Kim Jong Grillin. Bing Mi, and República anytime I'm across the river. 

What's your favorite dog-friendly place?

The Gado patio has a very special place in my heart. Rafaella is one of the managers there, and for my birthday and my dog’s birthdays, they would make a special treat for them. They’re always treated like VIPs when we’re there. We do the Langbaan or the Paadee patio a lot. Everyone is really great to my dogs.

How long have you been a basenji person for? Why basenjis?

I have been a basenji person since we got our little girl, Anouk, a little under five years ago. We got Klaus in August 2020. I'm allergic to most animals. My fiancé and I always wanted to get a dog, but it had to be as hypoallergenic as we could get. He did the research and found basenjis. They don't have an undercoat; they're low-shed and they have really short, straight hair instead of fur. They're super clean—they’re kind of catlike in that sense.

It’s funny, I don't have a lot of pictures of myself on my Instagram. And, especially now that we’re wearing masks, oftentimes people recognize me because they look at the dogs, and they go, ‘Oh, hey, Nori!' My dogs are famous.

Do you and your fiancé, Chad, have pretty similar tastes in food?

Oh, yeah. Neither of us are picky by any means. People are like, ‘How does this five-foot-tall petite lady eat so much?’ He’s kind of the secret sauce to it. People don’t realize I have a six-foot-seven full-grown man in the background eating the rest of the food.

Did you already have a lot of connections in the food industry before you started your IG page?

I'm a retired bartender, so I've been connected to the industry from a service perspective since I moved to Portland nine years ago. But the pandemic was a unique time—there are so many people that I would have otherwise not had a deep connection with if we didn't have the isolation piece. I definitely feel that since I leaned into my Instagram and touched on subjects like saving our independent restaurants and all the socioeconomic issues and social justice issues happening, I've made some really good connections. I feel like I not only have a solid food community—I have a solid community of like-minded friends that I feel deeply connected with.

What kind of connections have you made?

With small-business owners, restaurant owners around town, people in the industry—we were able to commiserate and talk about the state of how things are, how it could be better. 

I was also able to connect with more folks that look like me. When I first moved to Portland, I thought—and you hear this from so many people—that Portland is so white. My food Instagram definitely accelerated the opportunity for me to meet other Filipinos. I had no idea there were so many of us here until Instagram. I consider Chef Carlo’s Magna as sort of our hub. So I met a lot of Filipinos, met a lot of AAPI folks in general. It's just been really nice to see more diversity. I feel like I feel more connected to our BIPOC community ever since starting my Instagram.

You post a lot about social justice issues, not just food. What are some of the issues that you posted about a lot within the past couple years, and what was the reaction to that?

When it comes to racial inequality and violence toward BIPOC folks and AAPI folks, I’ve had a positive reaction in the sense that people feel energized or want to talk about it. I do think that it's really helped deepen some of my relationships. But also the opposite—it made a broader gap between me and some of my non-BIPOC friends—white and white-passing friends who couldn't relate or didn't want to. But also, some of my friends and I have been able to have uncomfortable conversations that were needed. 

The other topic that’s really important to me is the support of small businesses and independent restaurants. There's really nobody that negatively reacts to that. I think people all agree that it's an important thing. It's really when calling out the inequity of attention to BIPOC-owned businesses—I've gotten a mixed bag of people that are saying, ‘Oh my God, I didn't think about that, thanks for pointing it out.’ And then you get the folks that are just like, ‘Why do you gotta bring the race card?’ and troll, or get really aggressive about it. But I mean, that's not going to stop me. I don't ask people to agree with me. I welcome open dialogue. But I absolutely made it clear that if you don't care about things outside of what's viral or things that are really ’grammable, then maybe my page isn't for you.

How’d you meet your Tikim partners, Jane and Tricia?

I met my Tikim partners on Instagram. Especially just with the state of how things were, I think that kind of erased the whole concept of small talk. 

We all had mutual connections—but Instagram definitely gave us the avenue to engage with one another through mutual interests. Tricia and I connected through food, our love for Filipino food, and fashion, and things that were happening with Black Lives Matter and the attacks on Asian people. Jane and Tricia connected through similar interactions. The three of us meshed so well with our common interests, especially with Filipino food, that the relationship between the three of us just grew and Tikim was born.

Since you started Tikim, do you approach your food Instagram differently now?

Honestly, if I didn’t have my Instagram and the connections I made through it, I’m not sure Tikim would have become a success as quickly. The three of us all have day jobs; some of us have multiple projects. But I had built-in promotion. There was so much support from the community, and I really felt that my support for the community was being mirrored. And that was just amazing to see—we actually sold out in two and a half minutes for the first supper club.

And you had a lot of food industry people helping you out at the pop-up, right?

Jane and Tricia and I are very much Type A folks that don’t really like asking for help. To me, this was a reflection of how much the food community shows up. Nan from Mestizo offered her space—I didn’t even ask. Luna from Chelo just happened to have the night off, and she ended up cooking on the line. Lisa from Heyday took time to help us with the design and putting the event together the day of. Holly from Sibeiho helped us, and Jaclyn Nakashima from Bakers Against Racism—they did the front of house. People just kept showing up.

What are your hopes for your Instagram page going forward?

It’s really just finding balance at this point. I started a new job in October, so my hope is to get back posting on a regular cadence, and also really growing it along with Tikim, really focusing on the advocacy for community. To me, my hope for my Instagram is the hope I have for the industry. We really need to do what we can to make this a sustainable market for people who own their restaurants, bars, and cafés independently.

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