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Nov 11, 2010 10:43 AM

Minneapolis/St. Paul's Signature Food - It's Official

SE Asian.

Seriously, I found myself in St. Paul, close to the new Hmong Village marketplace last night, so I chowed my way down the extensive Food Court.

Where else in America can you find that vast an array of Laotian, Hmong, Thai, and other assorted SE Asian foods? You could eat a different pho every day for at least a month there.

Coupled with the Como Ave Hmong market, and the scattering of restaurants, markets, etc. around University Avenue and as far afield as Burnsville, I'm pretty sure SE Asian cuisine in this abundance has to be unique to Minnesota (outside of the inner city NY/LA areas).

So from now on I'm replacing "there isn't one" to "SE Asian Markets" as my answer to the tired, "looking for MSP's 'signature' food" question.

Flame away walleyeholics and Jucy Lucy suckers.

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      1. Anthony Bourdain seems to think so: This was from a Minnesota Monthly interview and he has stated this more emphatically in other interviews.

        "MNMO: Have you been to Minneapolis-St. Paul before? What are your impressions?

        AB: I’ve been a number of times. We did a show for the old series A Cook’s Tour, back when I was on the Food Network. I have friends out there, and I think Minnesota has some of the best Vietnamese food in America."

        1. I'll be sucked into this one - once again. Given that SE Asia probably has a better take on SE Asian cuisine than does St. Paul, I'll beg to disagree.

          Again, MSP doesn't need to have a signature dish/cuisine/food/whatever. And please forgive, but saying MSP's signature dish is SE Asian is like saying NYC's is Jewish, or LA's is Hispanic, etc. How can an American city's signature dish/cuisine be that of a foreign region?

          Let's just get over the fact that all cities don't have to have a signature dish or cuisine.

          1. You're right.

            I really think the answer is Lutefisk (they may also do this better in it's origin country, but who cares?), but if it can't be that, then it's this.

            21 Replies
            1. re: Foureyes137

              I'm not all that sure lutefisk does better in its origin country (Norway?) considering the Olsen Fish Co. is the world's largest lutefisk producer and exports to Norway.

              I have given this subject some additional thought and now think if there is a signature Minnesota dish it ought to be native harvested and parched wild rice soup. Minnesota has an indisputable ownership of that and at one time Minnesota was about the only place you could find it. Thanks to the University of Minnesota figuring out how to cultivate wild rice, California actually produces more now but it is not the same and unless you come to Minnesota you will not know the difference. So, if you want to know, you would have to come to Minnesota.

                1. re: Davydd

                  "I'm not all that sure lutefisk does better in its origin country (Norway?) considering the Olsen Fish Co. is the world's largest lutefisk producer and exports to Norway."

                  Well, there you have it folks. You natives appear to hate to admit it, but your signature dish is Lutefisk.

                  1. re: Davydd

                    I'll vote for wild rice. I think Davydd makes some good points. Wild rice is native to MN, there are several fantastic dishes that use wild rice, and it has a very interesting culture and history.

                    1. re: foreverhungry

                      Where can a visitor from another city get wild rice (already cooked)? I don't think I've ever seen that thread on here ("MSP's best wild rice dishes").

                      Byerly's Wild Rice Soup does not qualify in my opinion. It's pretty much equivalent to Campbell's Chunky soups.

                      1. re: MSPD

                        For one, Heartland has 3 items on today's menu making use of wild rice. I would suspect there'll be continued wild rice usage by Russo through the fall and winter.

                        Off the top of my head, I can't think of any restaurants that had a wild rice dish on their menu, but that being said, I distinctly remember having had very good treatments of wild rice at restaurants in times past.

                        I agree that wild rice soup can be very hit or miss. Most of the time it's a gloppy cream bomb with very little flavor. But a truly good wild rice soup is really excellent - kinda like how most clam chowders suck something horrible, but when you find a really good one, you're in for a special treat.

                        1. re: foreverhungry

                          Hell's Kitchen's wild rice porridge. Also, the Minnesota Cafe at the MN History Center always has wild rice something on its menu, almost always soup. Birchwood often has wild rice sausages on their menu. I suspect you won't approve, but the loon omelet at Key's Cafe (it's not the hand-harvested stuff, though, so, probably it doesn't count anyway.) Not sure about sourcing but Highland Grill (and maybe some of its siblings? Not sure). Target Field (wild rice soup, even though MSPD says it doesn't count. It is completely from scratch and not from a can. Byerly's primary goal is to sell you groceries so they are happy to tell you how to make the soup so you'll buy their cream, butter and wild rice, etc.) Also, in Duluth at Fitgers, esp their wild rice burger, or at Grandmas (another one that isn't the hand-harvested stuff, though.) And, if you're going all the way to Duluth, maybe keep going to Grand Marais and go to The Naniboujou. Youi can't count on it, but when Bon Vie Cafe in St. Paul offers wild rice salad it on its menu, it's awesome. Kramarczuk's has a wild rice sausage. Pearson's in Edina has a wild rice casserole: I've never had it, but I suspect it's not the hand-harvested stuff, but I really can't say. Sometimes Red Stag has it: I've never gotten it there. Byerly's Cafe (Minnesota Grille or something?) in Roseville has omelets and the aforementioned soup that doesn't count (it's completely from scratch, though probably not from hand-harvested.) And French Meadow and Common Roots Cafe.

                          And, to be honest, from the perspective of an outsider, St. Paul once did have a signature food: Hamm's or Schmidt. So did Minneapolis: flour.


                          Hell's Kitchen
                          80 South 9th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402

                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            Wow...what a great list!

                            I'll add the wild rice that comes as a side at Angry Trout in Grand Marais.

                            A "loon omelet"?!!? Now THAT would be unique!

                            1. re: MSPD

                              Absolutely, Angry Trout in Grand Marais is an excellent addition! Crooked Spoon Cafe up there, too.

                              I'm sure there are more places, especially the ones that do "seasonal and local," except that wild rice isn't ALWAYS on their menu. (Eg., Heartland). Also, maybe it's more "lunchy" as an incredient than, say, Alma might want to be.

                              I keep expecting it to be on the Dakota Jazz Club's menu, but as often as I check it, it's never there.

                              (Funny on the loon omelet! Fortunately, it's not REALLY a loon omelet.)

                              I love the wild rice pancake mix that you can buy at most of the co-ops in the little burlap bag. Anyone know of a restaurant that offers wild rice pancakes on its menu?


                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                Pretty sure loons are protected. I wonder if they taste like chicken?

                                  1. re: KC612

                                    All joking aside (lest some confused non-local happen upon this thread in the future), Key's Cafe's "Loon Omelet" has turkey in it, not loon, as follows: two eggs w/ Minnesota wild rice, mushrooms, onions, turkey, tomatoes, provolone cheese and a special mushroom sauce. green peppers, hash browns and mixed cheese.

                                    That's from the location in St. Paul on Robert Street. The Key's Cafes are operated by different people and some are better than others. I basically refuse to go to the one on Raymond, for instance.

                                    The one on Robert feels like a cafeteria. It's part of its charm.


                            2. re: foreverhungry

                              Oh, I know. What about the wild rice soup at the River Room in Daytons/Marshall Field's/Macy's in St. Paul? Always heard about it; never tried it.



                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                I love Daytons/Macy's wild rice soup, and you get one of their delicious popovers with it (2 if you ask nicely :).

                            3. re: MSPD

                              There may be just as much or more cultivated wild rice soup served up in Minnesota as the genuine deal. So, you do have to take it with a grain of salt. However, there is a major difference in the native and the cultivated. TDQ pointed out some examples. I might add anything prepared at The Angry Trout or Chez Jude in Grand Marais are going to be the real deal as well.

                              Regardless, cultivated or native, you don't find many wild rice dishes outside Minnesota served up. When you do, they often seem to be a mixture of white or brown rice with cultivated wild rice used sparingly which to me is kind of a phony presentation to dress up the menu description.

                              1. re: Davydd

                                I like wild rice stuffed bellas with cheese melted on top. I know I've had them at home and out to eat although I can't remember where.

                            4. re: foreverhungry

                              A couple of weeks ago I bought some wild rice brats from Kramarczuk's in NE. I actually only bought them because they were a little low on fresh brats and I needed a few more links to bring home to feed the family. Anyway, they were very tasty (and very Minnesotan).

                              Maybe if some clever entrepreneur would create a lutefisk/wildrice-Brat Banh Mi sandwich we would have the perfect Minnesota Signature dish.


                            5. re: Davydd

                              I think our minnesotan dish would be Hotdish.....