St. Paul’s Hmongtown Marketplace
A pillar of the Twin Cities’ Hmong community—which is the largest in the country—the sprawling Hmongtown Marketplace in St. Paul is the next best thing to hopping a flight to Southeast Asia. This market and those making the food represent centuries of Hmong traditions. In warmer months, you’ll find people selling plants, alongside imported and locally grown specialty Asian produce, such as bitter melon and pea eggplant. For me, the real draw is the food court in the main building. I would rather eat there than just about any place in the Twin Cities. At Hmong Express Cuisine, queue up for the papaya salad, which is made-to-order in a giant mortar and pestle. They take their spice seriously, and no one will give you an award for ordering a mouth-burning 5 out of 5 stars—so choose wisely. Peruse the food court stalls and you’ll find barbecue chicken and roast pork adorned with charred chiles, a can’t-miss bitter bamboo soup, boneless stuffed chicken wings, spicy sausage infused with lemongrass, lychee bubble teas, sesame balls and irresistible fried pork belly. Don’t be intimidated, it’s important that we all step out of our comfort zones to explore and engage with other cultures and their food. Trust me, you’ll be happy you did. This is truly one of the country’s best, yet little-known ethnic markets.
217 Como Ave
St Paul, MN 55103