Monday, October 29, 2012
I finally made it out to the Hmong Village today for lunch. The Hmong village opened a few years ago in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood of St. Paul just east of downtown. From outside, the Hmong Village appears to be a large boxy warehouse in the middle of an industrial run-down neighborhood, yet walk inside and the atmosphere changes drastically. If you have ever been to the mercado central in south Minneapolis, you'll have a better idea of what I am speaking of. Rows and rows of clothing, jewelry, home goods, spices, music, food and traditional crafts line the perimeter of the building like a maze. When I arrived around 1pm, the parking lot was full and bustling with 99.9% Asian patrons. I can't lie, I did feel a little out of place with my camera sticking out of my bag walking back and forth looking for anything to draw my attention. I wanted to try foods I had never experienced before, so I started out with a dish called, laab beef (aka: larb). Larb is a Laotian spicy meat salad cooked with fish sauce, mint, cilantro, lemongrass, chili, and lime juice. Larb can be prepared raw or cooked and is intended to be eaten inside a lettuce wrap. Call me naive, but I did not realize the larb I had purchased was made of raw beef sitting out on the counter at room temp for god only knows how long. I tried the first bite and felt immediately squeamish. The flavors were great, but something about the gooey raw meat kept me from chewing another bite. Next, I decided to try something a little safer... Hmong spicy sausage. The cashier encouraged me to try the sausage with a side of sticky black rice, which I accepted. The sausage was served with an extremely spicy chili sauce which only heightened the flavor packed sausage. Hmong sausage is cooked with a fragrant array of spices such as, lemongrass, ginger, and chili. I loved the sausage, especially alongside the sweet sticky rice. Before leaving, a plastic wrapped corn bread caught my eye. I LOVE anything with corn, so of course I took one home. To my surprise, the "corn bread" was more like a gooey rice cake than bread. I usually adore a chewy gooey texture, but this was over the top. I felt like I was eating a cooked piece of glue. While eating this "corn bread" of sorts, it occurred to me that almost every culture in the world has a different texture preference. Over time, cultures have adapted their own palates for different tastes and textures. For example, in the Hmong culture, you see a great deal of glutinous rice flour used in cooking which creates a very gooey, chewy, soft texture. In American culture, we LOVE anything crunchy and fried. In Indian cuisine, you see a lot of thinner sauces covering almost every dish. In African cuisine, nutty, paste-like sauces are in the majority. It is for this reason that I find global cuisine and culture so fascinating and exciting.
I highly recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and trying a few new foods at the Hmong village.
1001 Johnson Pkwy, St. Paul MN 55106