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MSP - Hmong

Hi all,

I am a journalist from Toronto, coming to Minneapolis-St. Paul at the end of the month to visit a friend, and I've managed to sell a story on how the Hmong influx has affected your culinary scene. So of course there's none better than Chowhounds to ask for food tips...

You've all raved about the Intl Market in St. Paul, so I'm definitely going there. My local friend has suggested these places:
Ngon
Hoa Bien
Saigon
Trieu Chau
Red Pepper Café

Are there any I'm missing? What dishes do you recommend at each (authentic Hmong, vs. Vietnamese or other SE Asian, is preferred)? Also, are there any higher end restaurants that use Hmong ingredients/techniques? And if I were to interview one or two people, who would you suggest? This could be farmers, chefs, vendors, etc.

Thanks so much in advance for your help.

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  1. Our Mpls Farmers Market is dominated by Hmong farmers. Many of the second generation (ie-the kids or grandkids) speak english and accompany the farmers on Sat and Sun to the market to work.

    I would think you would get a lot of good information that way. If you wont be here on a Sat/Sun, there is a downtown Mpls market on Nicollet Mall. Most of these farmers also attend, but not always with the kids.

    I hope the other MN Chowhounds have good suggestions, they are the best at helping out visitors. (my snarky poke at other boards lack of help)

    -MayrMN

    1. The cafeteria/dining room at the FoodSmart supermarket (SE corner of University & Dale in St. Paul) serves some more typical Hmong/Laotian fare. I've found it to be a reliable source of good food for not a lot of money; the folks behind the counter are as helpful as can be; and the store is an interesting wander after the fact. The Asian groceries on or near University in St. Paul seem to have specialties (Korean, Filipino, etc.); another one with what looks like a good selection of Hmong goods (including fabrics and some housewares) can be found along Western, south of University and north of Interstate 94.

      1. You might check out the food court at the Hmong Market. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/318303

        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/428244

        I prefer it to the cafeteria at Foodsmart, actually, although it's been awhile since I've been there.

        Also, there's a "new" Hmong Market, Golden Globe, which I haven't been to yet. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/49439...

        P.S. The places your friend mentioned are some of my favorites, though, some are Vietnamese, not Hmong. I tried to go to Red Pepper last weekend but couldn't find it, so, ended up at Saigon instead. Please report back if you go. Also, Cafe BonXai on University Avenue in St. Paul is fun and a little different than the others. Not "traditional" cuisine, but a nice spin on it.

        ~TDQ

        6 Replies
        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          TDQ - The Red Pepper Cafe is actually not too hard to find - it is on your left hand side if you are driving down University from Dale toward Snelling (same side as Mai Village and LS) I drive past it a lot. I believe it is just past Victoria, next to a Best Steak House which is on the corner. The part of the building that the Red Pepper is in is painted yellow, the rest of the building it is attached to is white. There is a plastic banner over the door, not a permanent sign. I am curious to hear how it stacks up to other places in the area. I never seem to be in the area at an appropriate time to be dining, which is a shame, because there are so many good places to eat in that area.

          1. re: autmommy

            Thank you. I actually found it on my way home, after having eaten at Saigon. (You can never go wrong with Saigon!) There was a bus in front of it when I passed it the first time, blocking it from my view. :), but, yes, it's right next to the Best Steakhouse.

            When is it an inappropriate time to be dining? ;-). Morning--Trung Nam for croissants or to pick up a bahn mi sandwich to go, Saigon for lunch, dinner, well, multitudes of places. All times of day get covered!

            ~TDQ

            1. re: autmommy

              autmommy, I just re-read Kathie Jenkins' blurb about Red Pepper in the PiPress and had to laugh at her opening sentences juxtaposed with my initial inability to see the restaurant hiding behind the bus: "No problem finding the new Red Pepper Cafe on University Avenue in St. Paul. Just look for the yellowest building near Victoria Street." http://www.twincities.com/jenkins/ci_...

              ~TDQ

              1. re: autmommy

                TDQ, did you ever make it to Kenkayba's Place for Ghanian food? (I did not, I admit with my head hanging in shame.) Red Pepper took over Kenkayba's old space. Dunno whether that helps or not.

                1. re: mcgeary

                  Oh no! I never did make it to Kenkayba's (also hanging head in shame.) What a bummer.

                  ~TDQ

            2. Many of our Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai restaurants are run by Hmong and Laotion families. The Hmong were found in Vietnam and Laos and picked up the local cuisine well enough to cook it once here. Many also spent a great deal of time in Thai Refugee Camps, so they learned to cook Thai. The Hmong were found, at one time, in China, but that was a LONG time ago. I think they took to Chinese cooking because it is so popular and fairly easy for them to adjust to.

              In other words, there are not a lot of Hmong restaurants, mostly because Hmong is an ethnic group, not a place.

              But yes, check out our Farmers' Markets and the couple other places listed.

              1. The St. Paul Farmers Market also has many many Hmong growers. Unlike the Minneapolis Market, food sold at the St. Paul market has to be grown within a certain radius of the market. So it is definitely local. I would contact the manager of the St. Paul market and ask him for names of Hmong growers. Of course, not much is in season now so you may not see lots of local produce being sold by Hmongs now. You should be here in late summer when the market is jammed with local growers and produce! Including lots of the Asian vegetables. Here's the web site for the St. Paul market with contact info: http://www.stpaulfarmersmarket.com

                1. Well hello! I saw this thread and thought, "hey, D should read this," then I opened it and saw it was you. Bwah!

                  Anyway, like someone else said, the Mpls Farmers Mkt is the way to go, not the St. Paul one. Although it sounds like the St. Paul one could be a good place to check out. I will take you to the one on Nicollet on Thursday and then on Saturday or Sunday if you want to check out the big one, I will show you were that is too.

                  And yeah, we don't really have Hmong restaurants, which is why the ones I listed are more Vietnamese. But for the most part, they are run by Hmong people, so you could find people to interview there at the very least. And we could always go back to Quangs on Eat Street too!
                  -S

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: SoozySnowFlake

                    Are you sure someone else said the MPLS farmers market is the way to go? I thought karykat was saying the St. Paul farmers market was a better way to go. (within 75 miles is the radius for the S.P.F.M. In contrast, you can get bananas at the MPLS market...) Personally, I think the farmers market at the Hmong Market is better than both, if you're looking for produce grown (or imported) by Hmong people for Hmong people...

                    Pho tau bay on Eat Street in Minneapolis is a better bet than Quang's, I think, if you're looking for Vietnamese restaurants that market themselves more to the Southeast Asian community. Ngon (Vietnamese) Bistro, as much as I adore it, seems to try to appeal to a broader audience, too, I think, rather than primarily to the S.E. Asian community. It just depends on what the angle of the OP's piece is. Hmong Food... Restaurants operated by Hmong Americans... etc.

                    And, as for dishes we recommend at each (I didn't notice that part of the OP's question when I first read the OP), well, most of these places have been discussed extensively on this board, so you might poke aorund with the search feature a bit. Saigon (Veitnamese) for bahn mi sandwiches and pho; Pho Tau Bay (Vietnamese) for pho. Ngon Bistro (Vietnamese), I guess, is an example of a more upscale restaurant, but it's still pretty casual-- probably the most upscale would be Azia (Asian fusion by a Vietnamese immigrant). http://www.aziarestaurant.com/ but I can't personally recommend it because I haven't been there. At Ngon, I like the pho, the ginger chicken, the mong bean cheesecake, the ginger creme brulee, and several of the appetizers there. I think the place you'll find the most "authentic" Hmong food is at the Hmong Market or at Foodsmart. Also, I suspect (because I haven't been there, yet) at Golden Globe (some of the same merchants from the Hmong Market are supposed to be at G.G.).

                    EDIT: there used to be a Hmong restaurant on University Avenue in St. Paul called Va Lor, but, when I drove past last weekend, it seems to have a different name (still S.E. Asian sounding), so I don't know what the story is there.

                    Please don't forget to credit chowhound for your finds.

                    ~TDQ

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      I defer entirely to your knowledge of the Hmong market (also known as the International Market I believe?) Because I haven't been there.

                      I do intend to go. And it makes tons of sense to me that that is where you will find Hmong growing, selling and cooking for other Hmong.

                      Just wanted to make the point that there are many Hmong at the St. Paul market and that it is purely local.

                      1. re: karykat

                        I completely agree with your point about the SPFM being completely local (everything sold at the SPFM must be raised within 75 miles of St. Paul) and having lots of Hmong farmers.

                        I was more confused by soozy's remark "like someone else said, the Mpls Farmers Mkt is the way to go, not the St. Paul one" as you, karykat, I thought were the only one to mention both the MPLS and SP FM's and I didn't necessarily think the point of your post was that the MPLS market was "the way to go" as soozy was saying. Perhaps just the opposite, if I understood it correctly.

                        EDIT: yes, the "Hmong Market" (as I call it) is also known as the "International Market Place ...US Asian Chinese Food and Grocery" according to the signs in front. I find it easier to call it the Hmong Market, though and I don't actually remember the reference to the "International Market" in the OP's post when I first responded to it. Very confusing, I know. (Refer to the first photo in the link) http://www.chowhound.com/topics/31830...

                        Email me at the address in my profile, karykat, if you ever want to go. I've not been in awhile and would like to check it out again. I also need to check out Golden Globe one of these days...

                        ~TDQ

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          (Yes, TDQ, sometime I would like to check out these places.)

                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            I asked a guy in there at one of the food court stalls, "What do you call this place" and, after thinking for a moment, he said "Hmongtown, I guess."

                            1. re: MSPD

                              "Hmongtown" makes me think of Hmongland over on University and Farmington. (It's a publishing company.) I love their sign!

                              They also have a bookstore called Hmong ABC. In fact, perhaps the OP might be interested in this book on Hmong-American food:

                              http://www.hmongabc.com/store/product...

                              Anne

                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                          re ngon: it's still in the running because the chef gets ingredients (in growing season, obviously), from the local hmong market-gardeners. the last time i talked to him he was pining for summer, when he can get the fresh stuff. but ngon is vietnamese/vietnamese-french fusion restaurant, not "authentic" hmong as you say!

                          i think there are traditional hmong farmers at both minneapolis and st paul markets, as well as mill city market-- it's just if they will have enough local product to be coming in. since it's the end of may, the op will probably have good luck.

                          also check out ads & writeups in the local paper: asian american press
                          http://www.aapress.com/

                        3. re: SoozySnowFlake

                          I'd like to respectfully clarify the difference between the Minneapolis and St. Paul farmers' markets in May 2008, during a notably delayed spring season:

                          -- Minneapolis: Items that are grown/produced all over and marketed to a Twin Cities clientele. Without dissing the stands that offer cases of bananas, they may not answer your question.
                          -- St. Paul: Items that are grown/produced locally by Hmong families (among others) and marketed to a Twin Cities clientele.
                          -- Neither: Items that are grown/produced locally by Hmong families and marketed to a Hmong clientele.

                          Having met only a few folks from this board, I can't say how the Hmong community is represented here -- if it is at all. I’d be wrong to presume to represent Hmong Twin Citians or Hmong cuisine, no matter how much second-hand exposure I enjoy. However, one possible resource might be CLepro, a terrific fellow hound, and her friends who so generously guided our chow-down at the international mall. Can’t make any promises for her, but can point out that the experience was both very educational and PROFOUNDLY more unique than what we find at farmer’s markets on either side of the river.

                          Read about it here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/421646

                          Since the word “journalism” has come up, here are some options for first-person research beyond a mere taste tour:

                          For a selection of Hmong-owned businesses, the Hmong Chamber of Commerce: http://www.hmongchamber.com/newhome.asp
                          For all kinds of relevant material: Hmong Cultural Center in St. Paul: http://www.hmongcc.org/
                          From the Cultural Center, a 2005 visual representation of Hmong businesses in St. Paul: http://hmongstudies.org/HmongLifeinSa...
                          From the Hmong Today newspaper, a piece on the Hmong business climate:
                          http://www.minnpost.com/from_our_part...

                          Hmong-OWNED Restaurants serving the Hmong community (Here you'll find business and cuisine that are independent of other management or tastes):

                          Foodsmart Restaurant
                          544 University Avenue
                          Saint Paul MN
                          (651) 665-0949

                          Best Steak House
                          1613 University Ave. W,
                          St. Paul, MN 55104
                          (651) 644 – 1444

                          Asian Cuisine
                          945 Rice Street, Suite A,
                          St. Paul, MN 55117
                          (651) 489 – 2256

                          Cakes by Fhoua
                          http://www.cakesbyfhoua.com/
                          995 University Avenue West #110
                          Saint Paul, MN 55104
                          651-644-1331

                          Hmong-OWNED Restaurants serving the general community

                          Sushi Tango
                          3001 Hennepin Avenue
                          Minneapolis, MN 55408
                          612-822-7787

                          Café BonXai:
                          http://www.hmongtoday.com/displaynews...
                          1613 University Ave. W
                          Saint Paul, MN 55104
                          (651) 644-1444

                          Hmong-owned retail outlets and supermarkets
                          Asia Supermarket
                          400 Western Ave. NW,
                          St. Paul, MN 55103

                          Golden Harvest
                          900 East Maryland Ave.,
                          St. Paul, MN 55106
                          (651) 772 – 3200

                          Tiger Supermarket
                          891 Rice Street, #1,
                          St. Paul, MN 55117
                          (651) 488 – 1060

                          Lien Hoa Food Corporation
                          1111 W. Pershing Road,
                          Chicago, IL 60609

                          1. re: KTFoley

                            KTFoley--just one tiny note to your (as always) excellent post--the Hmong-owned Best Steakhouse at 1613 University Ave. W is no longer and is the same as the Hmong-owned Cafe BonXai at the same address.

                            I must check out that Cakes by Fhoua! It looks like they have an actual storefront (according to the photo in this link) http://www.cakesbyfhoua.com/about.htm

                            ~TDQ

                            1. re: KTFoley

                              One more addition to your "Hmong ownership" list: according to this article by Kathie Jenkins in the Pioneer Press, some of the owners of the new restaurant Red Pepper are Hmong. http://www.twincities.com/jenkins/ci_...

                              ~TDQ

                          2. I strongly recommend (along with The Dairy Queen) the Hmong International Market. I doubt there's any place like it outside the Minneapolis - St. Paul area.

                            The food court there also has Thai and other items, but you can tell an item is Hmong (or at least has a Hmong name) by the very odd and unpronounceable spelling...for example, words that begin with "nq".

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: tvdxer

                              As you get into the growing season, there is a daily farmer's market as part of the Hmong Market. There you'll find Hmong Cucumbers, Thai Eggplants, and other fruits and vegetables that are rarely seen at the big farmer's markets.

                              1. re: tvdxer

                                I think the Hmong word for Hmong might be Hmoob--I see that word in lots of business names along the storefronts of University Avenue.

                                Is Bravo! Bakery Hmong-run? I can't recall if the owners are Vietnamese or Hmong. I don't think you can call the food "traditional" Hmong at all, but it sure is a fascinating little bakery. Their vegetarian and vegan cakes are gorgeous and unusual (with flavorings like mango and red bean and green tea) and their vegetarian dishes with the faux meat is quite interesting. http://bravobakery.net/cakes.aspx

                                Oh dear--scratch that--they are neither Vietnamese nor Hmong--they are from Taiwan. Still, the mock meat dishes are fascinating to me. http://www.citypages.com/databank/28/...

                                ~TDQ

                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  But has the Hmong influx affected our culinary scene? Not so much I honestly don't think. Perhaps home cooking, as there are now a variety of vegetables to choose from. But it's not like there's a style of cooking that has crept in here....

                                  1. re: jeanmt

                                    Well, the Hmong must have influenced our culinary scene because the OP has sold his story. ;-).

                                    ~TDQ

                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      Well, even on a farming level, chefs that aim to use local produce are often, even if by default, buying from Hmong farmers, right? But we'll see, we'll see :)

                                    2. re: jeanmt

                                      I wonder what about the converse is true. What parts of "American" cooking have been adopted by the Hmong and what haven't been? Assuming that there are some distinctions to be drawn.

                                      That would make an interesting story for us here in Minnesota.

                                2. wow. thanks everyone...let me read your responses and comment individually...

                                  1. Our ever-current Rachel Hutton did a nice piece on the topic this week.

                                    http://articles.citypages.com/2008-05...

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: KTFoley

                                      ah! so the new st. paul restaurant, "queen asia," which i've been curious about, is hmong then? i'll have to get over there & see what they have!

                                      i agree that the article is pretty good!

                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                        Yes, I think one of the new restaurants is Queen Asia, and the other is Red Pepper Cafe.

                                        On the topic of restaurant names, the new name for Va Lor is officially "Golden Palace." May still be Hmong & Laotian cuisine, or not. No longer has the sign for Super Papaya Salad. May still serve the dish which is quite super for some and quite strong for the uninitiated, or not.

                                        -----
                                        Golden Palace (formerly Va Lor)
                                        371 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55103

                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                          Queen Asia is not on my radar at all--I looked at Google street view maps for their address and it looks very warehouse-like. I can't visualize where this place is at all. Which makes it even more intriguing!

                                          ~TDQ

                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            i admit that when this place was mentioned in another msp thread (can't find it, can't remember who mentioned/asked about it, sorry!), the name totally caught my imagination, but i figured i was setting myself up for a letdown and that the place would turn out to be yet another lame mn-thai place. but now i want to go check it out! please, if anyone beats me to queen asia, start a new thread & link to it! tia!