In mid-November I posted looks at the greenmarket and the food court at Hmong Village in St. Paul. That outing was with a few friends, sans the family. Here now is an account of a visit with the family to the OG Hmong market and food court, Hmongtown Marketplace. I’ve reported on visits there before, in 2014 and 2018. I didn’t mean to go four years between reports—it just sort of happened. Well, we enjoyed our meal enough that it’s more than likely that we’ll be back in far less than four years. I’m pleased to report that while many things have changed at Hmongtown Marketplace, it has nonetheless remained more or less the same; and it remain an essential Twin Cities institution—one that anyone interested in broadening their sense of what it means to be Minnesotan, or just anyone interested in Hmong food, should be familiar with.
So, what’s changed? Well, the parking lot is not quite as beat-up as it used to be—which is not to say that it’s become very bespoke either. There’s also been a fair amount of churn among the vendors in the main food court between 2014 and now. What’s stayed the same? Despite the churn the food on offer continues to be much the same and it’s all pretty much as good and as good a deal as it ever was. I should say that once again we ate in the food court in the West building, right as you head to the market from the parking lot. There’s another food court in the building that houses the indoor vegetable market (which in the winter is the only vegetable market there is) but we are yet to eat there.
We were there for lunch on a weekday. It was the day before Thanksgiving and so we were a bit worried that it might be crowded anyway but we found it quite mellow. Finding parking was a breeze and so was finding a table at the food court. I’m sure it’s a very different story on weekends. We staked out a table, stalked the counters and got our orders in. As in the past, and as at Hmong Village, there’s a fair bit of overlap in what’s on offer at most of the counters. We got a few things from a number of places: Hmong sausage and rice from Naw-Maw Kitchen; grilled chicken and stuffed wings from Hmoob Kitchen (who I’d thought had gone out of business on our visit in 2018 but who are obviously still there); kao pia and bitter greens with pork from 99 Khw Wameng; papaya salad and a sweet corn cake from Coco’s Island; a steamed rice flour roll thingy with pork from Cherry Blossom Cafe; and a bunch of fruity drinks also from Cherry Blossom Cafe.
Everything was very tasty but my favourites were the papaya salad and the bitter greens with pork. Regardless of who you get papaya salad from, they will make it to your specifications (more or less fish sauce or chillies, for example) and give you a taste while it’s in progress so you can adjust further. The kao pia was also quite good. On the 2018 visit we’d loved the kao poon from Mama’s Kitchen. Alas, Mama’s Kitchen is no longer there—on our next visit I’ll try kao poon from another vendor. If you’re a Hmongtown Marketplace regular, let me know what other things I should try from which vendors on our next visit. And also let me know your opinion on the other food court.
For a look at the food court and everything we ate, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for a bit more on Hmongtown Marketplace and to see what’s coming next.
It’s too cold now for an outdoor market—though there was still live poultry being sold outside. We went in to the indoor market and bought some rambutan and also some mushrooms and other greens. We were in a bit of a hurry at this point and so I didn’t linger to take more photos there. By the way, one of the other things that’s changed at the food court over the years is that almost everyone—and probably everyone—now takes credit card payments via Square. So you don’t need to make an ATM run before a visit as used to be the case in the past.
Alright, what’s coming next from the Twin Cities food scene? Probably a report on dinner at Spoon and Stable—we are scheduled to eat there this weekend.