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Aug 5, 2007 06:26 PM

MSP Report: Hmong Market, Tam-Tam's, Bombay 2, Somali mall

(1) Hmong Market Food Court

I went here with a group of Chowhounders for an excellent guided tour by a friend of clepro's husband and a chowdown. The Hmong Market, gigantic but sometimes difficult to find (I found it immediately, however) is located across from some recreation fields on 217 Como Ave. After entering the expansive but often packed parking lot, one finds themself surrounded by several buildings, home to dozens of small vendors selling everything from Hmong music and videos to traditional handicrafts to Western clothing, as well as a large indoor / outdoor farmer's market type place.

The food court is located in the back of one of the buildings, and home to about seven or eight different vendors with names like "Thai Thai Daily", "Asian Special Drink", and "Mr. Papaya Kitchen". Dishes, which come in decent quantity though not always with rice, even when you expect it (as with curries), average out at $5, with some more and some less. I was able to sample, among several other things:

* Sqwab (pigeon!) with sticky rice - I've wanted to try pigeon for some time. Believe it or not, they were brought here early on by the ENGLISH to be bred for food. Fried sqwab (which I believe ours was) has a fried chicken taste. The meat : bone ratio didn't seem to favorable. Sauce accompanied it.

*Two curries - good, both I believe from Thai Thai Daily, but I didn't put them over rice, because I treated them like soup in the cup we were given. I think I would have enjoyed them more if I put them over the rice somebody got.

*Papaya salad - I usually hate salads of any sort, but this stuff was unlike anything I've had. It was good but mouth-searingly spicy, even at "medium". It left my lip burnt for a long time, requiring the purchase of another bubble tea.

*Fried tilapia - Some chowhounds from a different table were kindly sharing theirs with others. It was pretty good, but the bean dipping sauce (the real attraction IMO) was lost in the process.

*Bubble tea - I got two of these for myself, the first some "mocha" type flavor that was very good, and second something super-sugary that tasted like Kool-Aid my mom made yet with tapioca pearls in it. Delicious!

Most of the food was pretty good, though I admit I am not a huge fan of Hmong food. Must be the elevation that limits it to more simple rice and meat. I would have enjoyed the very good Thai curries more if I remembered to put them over rice :). Just not used to having soup / curries in cups...

For anybody wanting a true cultural experience, I strongly recommend the Hmong Market.

Service: Adequate

Environment: Loud, chaotic, and fascinating

Price: $5 for a typical meal

Parking: Extensive on-site. Gets very busy, hard to find your car. Amazing how almost all the cars there were Asian.

(2) Some Somali mall in West Bank

I happened to stumble upon a Somali mall in the West Bank neighborhood, something I'd been wanting to see but forgot to look up the location of. The two-story "mall", housed in one of the buildings along the street, was far more tranquil and empty than the bustling Hmong market, with small vendors selling a variety of traditional Somalian handicrafts, clothes, and trips to that country (yikes!) The aroma of incense filled the upper floor. The lower floor sported the mall's only food vendor, a tiny little operation selling what looked like croissants and samosas for $1 apiece. I bought one of the dollar samosas and was pleased with the size. An older Somali man came over with a big smile and asked me if I "knew what that was" and I said "a samosa" and he then laughed and said "Yes, yes!", excited I was aware of that element of their culture. The flavor / texture was acceptable but not exceptional, perhaps a bit compromised in the microwave oven he used to cook it up. The room was otherwise filled with young Somali men watching soccer on a TV.

Service: Adequate

Environment: Adventurous if you're not Somali, maybe good for soccer fans

Price: $1 samosas

Parking: On-street ?

(3) Bombay 2 Deli

Well known to MSP Chowhounders, this is a small snack / curry bar located in between two Indian grocery stores. The menu is filled with Indian junk food delights like vada pav and bhel puri, as well as healthier curries, a rotating three of which are available each day. I opted for a vada pav, which I had read about and wanted to try, and the bhel puri, but the kind and cute Indian woman at the counter recommended I had the samosa chaat instead - something I don't regret. It was absolutely delicious, filled with flavor and unlike anything I've had before - the ultimate snack food. The vada pav, kind of like a vegetarian Indian burger with potato and assorted ingredients replacing the beef, was not nearly as good, though I don't blame Bombay 2 for this - this was my first time having it.

Price: $4.99 curries, snacks typically $2 - $4. My two filling snacks came to a little over $5.

Service: Excellent

Environment: Snack bar with limited seating.

Parking: Behind the building or on-street.

(4) Tam Tam's African Restaurant

My final dining option at 9:30 pm, before heading back, Tam Tam's is a small establishment run by Ugandan immigrant Stephen Kaggwa. Having seen his picture on the internet in a newspaper article about the restaurant, I immediately recognized him (or somebody who bore a resemblance to him). Whatever the case, I hope the restaurant stays in business, because the service was immaculate, from start to finish. I ordered "Tam Tam's Stew" with ugali, a type of cornmeal mush, similar to polenta or fufu, popular throughout southern Africa. He recommended I split it up with something else (included in the price), partly because of "the hour", so I got chapatis too. Within about ten or fifteen minutes, two bowls arrived, one containing the stew and the other a dish of greens, chapati, and ugali. The stew was hearty and decent but nothing special - perhaps this was because I wasn't very hungry yet, due to haven eaten so many things hours earlier. The chapati was very good, but the highlight was the ugali. Not that the ugali had much flavor - as far as I know it isn't supposed to, being used to scoop up stew. What's special about it is that I could find it in Minneapolis. Thank you Tam Tam's for allowing me to try a hard-to-find southern African food in MINNESOTA. Finishing up the meal, the waiter (owner?) asked me if the "greens weren't much of a hit", not having eaten them, and I said I just don't like them in general, and he said "I should have replaced them with something else". I told him he already gave me plenty to eat - and he did. I was full after leaving this place.

Again, the service was among the best I've ever gotten, extremely attentive, and this guy really seemed to enjoy this restaurant operation. The only other customers were a group of Somali men having a leisurely tea night, my waiter joking with them, calling one the "Vice President of Mogadishu". I strongly recommend this place, with its excellent service and pan-African menu, and hope it stays in business, because it certainly deserves to.

Price: $11.99 for the stew, greens, chapati, and ugali (large portion).

Service: Excellent

Environment: Dimly lit (in a good way), various African-theme decorations, suitable for a date.

Parking: Behind the building or on-street.

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  1. Wow, you know how to fill a weekend! Thank you for this detailed report. My heartiest thanks to clepro for organizing the chowdown, and her two friends for serving as our guides. Here's a link to clepro's chowdown announcement thread for the International (Hmong) Market Chowdown, which also contains links to previous reports on the Hmong market.

    Towards the end of this post, I provide detailed directions for finding the place and the post beneath it contains photos of the signage you can see from the street (to help y'all find it!).

    I described the produce for sale at the Hmong Market in this post:

    I'm glad you found the Somali mall after the not-so-precise directions Orange Julius was giving at the chowdown!


    1. A couple more comments. Unlike previous chowdowns where everyone in the group shared all of the dishes, this time we broke ourselves into 4-5 smaller groups of 4 or 5. So, different groups tried different dishes. tvdxer and I were in the same group.

      We tried two papaya salads in our group. One was from the 2nd vendor from the left called Hmong Express Cuisine. I also think we tried a coconut curry soup from this same vendor.

      The squab with purple sticky rice, the second papaya salad, and the deep fried tilapia with the good sauce (which our group bought, actually, then shared with the other groups) were from the vendor on the far right called Nyob Zoo Kitchen. We did run out of the fantastic sauce, but I ran over and asked for a second tub of the sauce, which they gave me, no problem. The gal made the papaya salad, with a mortal and pestle, right in front of me. She told me she's been making it for 3 years and that she moved from Thailand 5 years ago.

      Of the two papaya salads, I found the one from Nyob Zoo Kitchen to have the full complement and balance of sweet, tangy, spicy, tart flavors and, therefore, I preferred it to the other, which seemed less complex to me.

      KTFoley was describing in this thread how the papaya salad she got at Va Lor was "murky"--and, I admit, this papaya salad was also murky. It was the "fish sauce" she put in it that made it murky. I think it was more than fish sauce, almost more of a paste, but she told me it was fish sauce when I asked what it was.

      Other dishes we tried in our group (that I can remember!):
      ~sesame balls from B.T. Restaurant
      ~Deep fried bananas from B.T. Restaurant
      ~sliced papaya with chile powder (I'm not sure where this came from--one of our hosts brought it over to us
      )~Meatballs, also from, I think Hmong Express Cuisine
      ~Bitter melon soup (I think this was also from Hmong Express Cuisine or the stall to the right of it, Thai Thai Daily), which was fantastic. Slices of bitter melon stuffed with ground chicken in a nice (but bitter) broth.

      We got to sample some of the dishes some of the other groups were gracious enough to share with us, too, but I don't know which vendors they came from, etc. so I'll leave it for someone else to describe them.

      Afterwards, we went to the little tea house that is towards the front of the same building that the food court is in. The woman serves teensy little steaming hot tastes (generously refilled or topped off the second she notices your cup isn't full to the brim) of Kann-on green tea, which clepro says is grown in Thailand by the woman's brother. They call it "Healtea" and claim it is helpful for addressing all kinds of maladies. There is no charge for the tastes--you just leave a tip in the tip jar. I did like the tea and will probably go back to buy some another day. Clepro describes the experience nicely here:

      I have some photos I'll try to post later when I'm feeling ambitious.


      4 Replies
      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        I should mention I didn't leave a tip in the tip jar...not because I'm greedy, but because I accidentally knocked over some of my bubble tea on the floor and wanted to evacuate ASAP!

        And yes, the meatballs were very good. I was a bit nervous about trying the bitter melons so I didn't get to them... The sesame balls were also excellent and helped offset the spice of the papaya salad. It's cool how you (Dairy Queen) got to seem them made!

        1. re: tvdxer

          Ah! That was you! I must have taken your spot shortly after you left, because a few of your bubbles came home with me on the bottom of my shoes....

        2. re: The Dairy Queen

          Finally I'm getting around to posting my photos. I'll try not to duplicate Uisage's too much and will just post the photos of the things that I liked (this time around) that I have photos of (alas, I didn't get photos of the wonderful bitter melon soup, nor did I get a taste of the ribs from One Stop Deli that everyone raved about. They look fantastic, though, and there's always a line for those, the Nyob Zoo papaya salad, and the fried bananas every time I've been to this foodcourt). I posted about my other favorites, bubble tea (Thai Thail Daily), sweet pork and egg soup (Papaya Kitchen), curry noodle soup (Papaya Kitchen ), from previous visits here:

          Photo #1: Nyob Zoo Kitchen
          Photo #2: Papaya salad from Nyob Zoo Kitchen--very good, I recommend it.
          Photo #3: Whole fried tilapia from Nyob Zoo Kitchen (with take-out cup of fantastic sauce)--another dish I recommend--$6, I think.
          Photo #4 Meatballs (the big tasty ones, from I'm not sure where--I'm guessing Thai Thail Daily, but I don't know who bought them because they were already at the table when I returned with the papaya salad), plus the sliced papaya. -Thumbs up on these meatballs as well. I guess you'll just have to be on the look-out for these while browsing the various vendors and hope they leap out at you.


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Photo #1 One Stop Deli
            Photo #2 Sliced papaya and chili from One Stop Deli (weird that this photo posted sideways. That's not how it looks on my screen)
            Photo #3 B.T. restaurant
            Photo #4 Fried bananas from B.T. Restaurant


        3. Thanks for the heads up on Tam-Tam's. I'll link to it since there's no description of where it is (Looks like it's on like the West Bank) and to Bombay 2 Deli since I know it's in the system. I've created a link to the International Market, but think that it may be too hard to link to a Somali mall somewhere on the West Bank. I'll leave it to others to fill in the details there.

          Bombay 2 Deli [Closed - May Reopen in Different Place]
          1840 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418

          Tam Tam's African Restaurant
          605 Cedar Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55454

          International Hmong Market
          217 Como Ave, St Paul, MN 55103

          1. What a wonderful report (and nice meeting you. I was the fellow mocha bubble-tea drinker). I loved the Hmong market and the chowdown in general. So wonderful to get a tour. And the food was plentiful and wonderful. Oh, fried bananas, no one has mentioned them, and I can't remember the vendor. They were battered with almost the same batter you'd use for fish, and deep fried, as at the fair. They tasted too "banana-y" for me. But I could see how they'd be wonderful if you were a fan of banana.

            Thank you again clepro, Mo, and Richard for your generous and gracious tour and for arranging this. And the bitter melon soup was amazing. I"m such a fan.

            Also should mention the market includes a produce market with many Hmong and Laotian vegetables for sale, including the pumpkin greens we later had sauteed with pork at the food court. They were truly wonderful

            1 Reply
            1. re: jeanmt

              The fried bananas were from B.T. Restaurant.


            2. Thanks for the great report tvdxer. Way to fill a weekend indeed! And thanks to all 20 of you who joined us at the International Market, and to Mo and Richard for being so generous with their time and knowledge. Our tour was great fun. We started out wandering past tables filled with textiles, medicinal roots and herbs, Hmong poetry, silver bars, shaman accouterments, Asian videos, handmade knives, etc. Then on to the vegetable and fruit markets, with their piles of long beans, bitter melons, small ears of black corn, lemon grass, squash blossoms, and mountains of greens. We were treated to tastes of Hmong cucumber (much thicker and sweeter than standard cukes, with smaller, softer seeds) from a seller who made fun of Mo for not slicing the skin off fast enough, pungent herbs, lychees and the extremely odd looking but tartly sweet rambutan ( I came home with a huge bundle of fresh ginger for just $1, along with a small quartet of bitter melons and what was described as simply “Hmong squash.”

              After that, it was on to the food court. We took up two full tables and seemed to have no problem at all elbowing our way through the crowds. Hits and misses, overheard or experienced:

              * Papaya salad from Nyob Zoo Kitchen. As TDQ said, the proprietor makes each one to order, using a mortar and pestle. Big chunks of lime, tomato, thai eggplant, long bean, tamarind paste, fish sauce, lots of peanuts, not much sugar. Crisp texture, pungent flavor. This was the second time I've had it there, and this week's was quite a bit spicier than the previous. I liked it a heck of a lot the last time I had it, and even better this time. Not everyone shared that sentiment--some at our table thought it too spicy, others found it too salty. Since she makes it to order, ask for less spice/more sugar if you like a sweeter or milder taste. And if a murky color doesn’t appeal, ask her to leave out or lessen the tamarind paste.
              * Beef ribs/pork ribs from One Stop Deli, the last vendor on the left. Didn't hear anything but good reports about them. Order them with or without rice... can’t remember the exact price, but I think it was in typical $5 range w/o the rice. Upon ordering, the meat is quickly separated from the bone and piled into a container by a knife-wielding woman behind the counter. Moist, succulent, slight smoky flavor, mostly lean and served with a great chili sauce.
              * Green papayas with chili. Thin wedges of fruit served in a cup, with small container of chili flakes to sprinkle over them. I liked it very much, everyone who mentioned them to me did so favorably, and one person said it was her favorite thing on the table. Again, from One Stop Deli.
              * Bitter melon soup from Thai Thai Daily. Seems to inspire either love or hate. It was love at first taste for me. Little rounds of bitter melon with minced, mildly seasoned chicken stuffed (and falling out of) the centers, floating in a bowl of what looks like dishwater. Doesn’t sound too good, huh? But if you like bitter melon enough to think you might like it fairly unadorned, it’s heaven. Mo and Richard say that the soup is considered especially healthful, and that few of the American-born generation will eat it.
              * Pork and egg soup, from Mr. Papaya I believe. More like a thick stew, this was a weird kind of wonderful. A ladle full or two of medium brown broth with big hunks of what was mostly pork fat still on the bone and eggs (quail?). Not the chewy kind of fat; the thick, soft kind that melts in your mouth. I didn’t get to try the eggs, so will have to wait for someone else to tell me about them. The pork was a guilty, very guilty, pleasure in small doses. I cannot imagine actually eating the entire container.
              * Deep-fried bananas from B. T. This was the happy result of my chat with a young woman while I was in line waiting to order ribs. She was eating one and told me that we absolutely had to try them. Delicious, although Mo claims that her’s are better—she uses a lighter batter and serves them with vanilla ice cream. (I’ll offer myself up for a taste comparison…
              )* Other overheard favorites: The deep-fried talapia with the fabulous, complex sauce (Nyob Zoo Kitchen). Meatballs from Hmong Express Cuisine (some thought these a little bland). Big grilled sausages, mostly lean and chewy, served with purplish black sticky rice. Some kind of steamed rice-flour roll that reminded me of char seu chueng fun, with pork and green onion and yet another spicy dipping sauce. Stuffed chicken: legs or wings of chicken with the meat removed and the remaining skin stuffed with a sausage mixture and grilled.

              I saw lots of other things on the table that I didn’t get to or choose to try: something rectangular made of green coconut paste, sesame balls, the aforementioned grilled squab (or was that quail?) served with mounds of sticky rice, various curries, and rounds of bubble teas. I'm not a bubble tea fan myself, but they seemed to be making a lot of other people very, very happy.

              9 Replies
              1. re: clepro

                I there were two varieties of meatballs floating about: the little (cherry-tomato sized) dark ones at your table (I don't know which vendor they came from, but those were bland, I thought) and the trio of larger (nectarine sized) meatballs from Hmong Express, that someone at our table bought, which I personally found very flavorful.

                I agree, clepro, I think it was actually quail, not squab, at Nyob Zoo Kitchen if it's what I had that I reported on (and photographed) in my last visit to the Hmong Market (see the third photo in this post.) I might have led tvdxer astray on that point--he asked me what it was and I intially replied squab when I saw the dish from afar and never got around to correcting myself when I got a closer look. My apologies for that. Nevertheless, if it's the quail that I tried on my last visit , I found it uninspired, though I was captivated by the purple sticky rice.

                On the topic of murkiness of the papaya salad. When she made my salad, she added what she called fish sauce before the tamarind (sauce or paste? I'm not sure which.) The salad took on a dark, "murky" character the instant she added the fish sauce. The fish sauce I'm used to is clear--this was a bit cloudy and dark. The tamarind only enhanced the effect, so, while foregoing the tamarind sauce might diminish the murky look, it won't completely eliminate it. Nevertheless, I liked the way mine tasted, even though it was different from other papaya salads I've had in Southeast Asia. The Hmong must have their own, unique spin on it. Actually, one of the craziest things is to watch the women behind the counter at Nyob Zoo furiously shredding all of that papaya to meet the continuous demand for their papaya salad.

                If it's the same pork and egg soup I reported on and photographed from my last visit to the Hmong Market (I didn't try any this time around), I think they are regular chicken eggs, not quail eggs. They are huge! (You can see the eggs in the styrofoam container at the left edge of the frame of the second photo in this post ). This is one of my favorite dishes.

                Personally, I found the sesame balls rather boring--I think they were filled with egg. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of these. Oh well.

                My favorite bubble tea is still the rainbow bubble tea from Thai Thai Daily. (See the first photo with this post: ). The different sizes and textures of all the various bubbles is delightful. And it wasn't too sweet.

                Thank you again, clepro, for organizing.


                1. re: clepro

                  Bitter melon soup with sesame balls behind. Alas, the bitter melon soup was too bitter for me. Glad I got to taste it, though. The sesame balls were a good palate cleanser.
                  The fried tilapia and its fantastic sauce. This was like a punch in the mouth of flavor. Very powerful.
                  A look up the table, chock full of food.
                  One of the papaya salads.

                  1. re: clepro

                    The purple rice was wonderful, chewy and flavorful. I also loved this sausage.

                    Spring rolls, bubble tea (and a rainbow bubble tea - a very odd sensation when you are not expecting it). The white slab thing is coconut flavored rice. Chewy and mellow.

                    Here are both kinds of meatball. The smaller ones were kind of bland. The big ones were very tasty. The corn cake is sweet and chewy, more like a dessert. Same for the green coconut rice, which I liked more than I expected to.

                    1. re: clepro

                      I think this is curried pork. Could someone confirm?

                      And here's the tea room.

                      1. re: Uisge

                        Yep, that's curried pork. And in the cup to its right are remnants of the pork and egg stew.

                        What happened to the other photos?

                        1. re: clepro

                          Moderators pulled them off because there were people in them.

                      2. re: clepro

                        Here are some of the produce items from the market.

                        Bitter melons

                        Mo peels a hmong cucumber.

                        And one of the vendors raced her by peeling a second one.

                        I loved the shape of these long squash.

                        1. re: clepro


                          Long beans

                          Lychee and rambutan (yum!)

                          Lots of variety.

                          Thanks again to Clepro and Mo and Richard for a wonderful tour and great time.

                          1. re: Uisge

                            Great photos, thank you! Now I don't have to post mine! :).