Like, three months ago, Marcus and I set-up a double date with some friends to go to the Science Museum and see the SPACE exhibit and the Hubble Omni show. Last week, we decided that we all probably needed to eat beforehand and so I suggested visiting the Hmong Village in St. Paul because I had never been before, and I had heard that it was a delicious place to eat and I have been meaning to go for too long now.
Karen agreed and said that while her husband had been before and loved it, he had not taken her! How perfect that we were all going on this adventure then, right?
For those of you who do not know who the Hmong people are, they are an ethnic group (per Wikipedia) from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. St. Paul, MN is home to the largest Hmong-American community in the United States, which is pretty cool.
The Hmong Village is an indoor market in St. Paul where you can purchase a variety of things including traditional costumes and jewelry, groceries, electronics, and of course there is this huge food court with a number of different vendors.
When we arrived at the destination, Karen texted Marcus to let us know that she and her husband were actually at the Hmongtown Marketplace and based on the amount of time that we all had to eat before the show, we agreed to eat separately (and essentially have the same date in different places) and meet up at the Science Museum. Related/unrelated: Marcus and I now have a goal to visit the Hmongtown Marketplace.
Before visiting the Hmong Village, I did a bit of reading about the different sorts of food on offer so that we would know what to expect. There were so many vendors selling so many similar dishes (roasted pork belly, sausages, forbidden rice, papaya salad, spring rolls, etc.) that ultimately, we made our decisions based on two factors: which stall had the longest line, and which stall would make the papaya salad from scratch in front of you.
First up: Mai’s Deli
I stopped by this stall because first and foremost, they made papaya salad to order in front of you. After placing your order, specifying the style (Thai v. Regular) and heat level, a woman would begin adding ingredients to her mortar and pestle and start the blending process right in the ordering window. After the papaya was added and stirred in, I was offered a taste to ensure that the heat level was appropriate, which it absolutely was. She then piled the papaya salad into a container that probably could have fed four people, all for $6. This right here is just a small scoop of it.
I also ordered a mangonada, which was $4.
I tried to get a snap of Marcus too, but I later realized his eyes were either half-shut or closed in both of them, so…oops.
I am still not entirely clear on what a mangonada is, but my understanding is that it is a blended fresh mango drink (like a slush) with a swirl of spice and salt. It was awesome. It also came with this exciting straw that was wrapped in some sort of candy that was unidentifiable at that particular moment in time, but I later learned was tamarind. How excellent!
Second Stop: Mai’s Kitchen
This stall had a rockin’ line so Marcus got right in that. Here, we ordered pork belly, Laos sausage, forbidden rice, and egg rolls for a grand total of $19.
Forbidden rice is a black rice that is incredibly sticky. Marcus had wondered if there would be a specific flavor to the rice, and while I would not necessarily say that it had a unique flavor, it did have a great texture. After doing a little bit of research on this after the fact, it sounds like black rice is exceptionally nutritious compared to other varieties of rice! Who knew?
While we were given forks for our meals, I saw many people eating meat and rice with their hands before we sat down, so we discarded the forks and did likewise. The egg rolls, not shockingly, were the most basic part of our meal. The sausage had a very coarse grind and Marcus preferred that to the pork belly. I on the other hand, really enjoyed the pork belly which was an 11/10 combination of tender and crisp bits. All of it got dipped into a sauce filled with hot pepper flakes. Marcus found it to be too spicy, I found it to be the perfect amount of spicy.
Even though we missed out on eating with our friends, it was just an incredible meal, and we will be bringing more people back for another visit soon!