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Jul 11, 2013 02:21 PM

Karen Markets, St. Paul?

Where is the Karen market TDQ?

[Note: this post was split from the discussion "Heartland or Bachelor Farmer?" by the Chowhound Team]

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    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      Ahhh, the articles led to some links that shed some light for me! Here's a little bit of background on a people about whom I knew nothing before TDQ's post introduced them to me:

      Karen is an ethnic group from Southeast Asia, with their roots in Myanmar (Burma) and some ancestral homelands in Thailand. Most are Buddhist; 15-20% are Christian from the missionaries who first arrived in Myanmar in the mid-19th century, and a small percentage still practices animism.

      Traditionally, the Karen were subsistence farmers. Many have fled Myanmar for refugee camps in Thailand, and on to other parts of the world.

      And from :
      "The ongoing armed conflict in Burma constitutes the longest-running civil war in the world. Many Karen-populated parts of the country were devastated by the Second World War and have been affected by armed conflict since 1949, the year after independence. Although Karen communities living in the Irrawaddy Delta, lowland areas of Yangon and Bago Regions and the Mon and Karen States have not experienced direct fighting in many years, those living in the mountainous areas bordering Thailand continue to be subject to ongoing armed conflict. Even in those areas where insurgency and counter-insurgency operations have come to an end, communities remain vulnerable to a range of threats, including various forms of violence and deep-seated poverty."

      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        And before my previous post gets flagged for "not about food" or TL:DR, let me just add that the Karen presence in the Twin Cities means a broader horizon of culinary traditions and options for all of us. So thank you, TDQ, for clueing me in!

        1. re: KTFoley

          (Note to Mrs Flynn--this post is probably not going to be very helpful to you regarding your short visit, other than just general local interest kind of info--I don't mean to hijack your thread, sorry about that. Should we ask the mods to split the Karen discussion starting with docfood's post to a new thread?).

          Next time you head over to the East Side to go to Ward 6 or something, drive up Wheelock as if you're going to Phalen Park and just soak in your surroundings (without being a driving hazard!) Oh! Dragon Festival is in Phalen Park this weekend, so you'll have just the perfect excuse to make the drive!

          You'll see a ton of little businesses that are either explicitly Karen or other Southeast Asian (such as a Thai restaurant and a Burmese restaurant. There are also several "betta" shops. I haven't been able to figure out what those are. Can they seriously be betta fish shops? Like three of them within 10 blocks? ). I haven't been able to get out and explore much with toddler along, alas, during my recent jaunts to the East Side, but I want to get over there more.

          I'm guessing those are all Karen-owned, or maybe owned by folks of some of the other ethnic refugee groups mentioned in the links (Kachin, Mon, and Shan which groups I know even less about than the Karen) from Burma.

          SF where the OP is from has the long-established Burma SuperStar restaurant, so I didn't mention the Burmese restaurant until now as I thought only the Karen-specific market would be new/different to her vs. what she could get in the Bay Area. But I think there's a lot going on on the East Side that merits some serious exploration for us Twin Citeans.

          About 4 years ago I was told that the Karen was the fastest growing ethnic group in MN, but the number that stuck in my head was about 300. I thought 300 was total population at that time, and maybe it was and they've just been settling at a very fast clip, but maybe I was mistaken and it was the number of settling per year, because apparently the total population as of 2011 was around 6000-7000 according to the links.

          I was surprised that the article says that the owner of Golden Karen Grocery arrived in MN in 2001 and that's after having settled in NYC first. So, I guess the Karen have been settling here for well over a decade.

          One of those articles mentioned that the even newer (than the Karen) group settling here right now are from Bhutan. I can't wait for the little explosion of Bhutanese businesses! I don't think I've seen any, but I'm looking out for them.


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Where is the Burmese restaurant? I was recently at the Burmese grocery on Payne to pick up some fermented tea leaves but wasn't aware there was a restaurant.

            1. re: misterpatrick

              It's on Wheelock, but I can't say exactly where. Driving from Ward 6 to Phalen Park. I can't find anything about it online, either, unfortunately. Next time I'm in the neighborhood, I'll try to pin down a location. Sorry I can't be of more help.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Is this it?

                Irrawaddy Burmese Cuisine
                1377 Arcade

                1. re: ChillyDog

                  Well, that's certainly a Burmese restaurant, but I don't think it's the one I'm thinking of. I'll need to head over in person to confirm. But, well done! Hopefully misterpatrick will find it helpful nonetheless.


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Thanks, I'll definitely poke around the area and see what I can find.

                    1. re: misterpatrick

                      Great! Please do come back and tell us all about your adventures! I'm a little slower in my chowhounding these days... But, hopefully not forever!


      2. So I thought both markets were Hmong markets. Are they different or the same? We all know there is a large Hmong population here with similar history except I thought they came from the mountains of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I've never heard of the Karen before this.

        I'm editing this. I read your postings more thoroughly, TDQ, and had no idea this all was happening. This is all very interesting.

        2 Replies
        1. re: shoo bee doo

          The Hmong are different than the Karen, though they are from the same general part of the world. And they are refugees for different reasons...


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Karen are Burmese, one of the ethnic groups there. It's pronounced kar-RIN. The Hmong is a tribal group from the mountains of Laos.

        2. The first time I had heard about the Karen was two years ago I met a young man fishing on the same public dock as me. He had been in MN for just over a year, and had been born and spent 17 years in a refugee camp on the border of Thailand previous to that. I didn't realize there was a big enough presence here to support a specific grocery and restaurant (or two). I could swear I had also come across some information their numbers were only in the 100's. I happened past the one market on my way to Ward 6 this spring and have been meaning to check it out.

          1. Are there any Karen restaurants or deli counters in groceries? And what are the dishes to try?

            1. Just a ping, has anybody actually been to Irrawaddy restaurant? I terribly miss Lahpet thoke, the Burmese fermented tea salad. It's almost a 20 mile drive, so before I pull the trigger I'm wondering how it is. I might push on when it warms up someday and combine it with a beta buying spree.