Friday, June 24, 2011
The cold, rainy spring has held many local farmers back from bringing produce to the area farmers’ markets. But there is one market that is open rain, shine or snow. It is the Hmong Village at 1001 Johnson Boulevard in St. Paul.
Opened last November, the market features 35 produce booths, 17 food booths, 230 merchant stalls, a number of services, and 40 offices. It was the intent of its creator Yia Vang to create a community space where people are comfortable shopping and where all generations can meet and just visit. And while it features many Hmong products and food, it also offers Somali, Chinese, Mexican, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, and Thai items as well.
The food court featuring everything from full meals to snacks to bakery goods and soft drinks will take more than one visit to truly appreciate. The Heavy Table sampled about 25 of the offerings and included photos and descriptions on their website www.heavytable.com/hmong-village-in-st-paul-25-tastes/. Some of the choices include Pad See Ew, Papaya Salad, Fried Black Sesame Cookies, Chicken Feet, Pho Fawm, Hmong Sausage, Pho Roll, Beef Lab with Sticky Rice, Steamed White Bass, and so much more. While the food court has a hallway of tables and chairs, taking the food out for a picnic somewhere else is a much better idea for on busy days the tables inside are full.
Hmong Village is open every day from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m., but some vendors do not open until 11 a.m. and some are only open Saturdays and Sundays. I visited on a Friday about 11 a.m. and found all of the food stalls open, about half of the produce stands, and only about 20% of the clothing, gift, DVD, and other shops open. But, it was still enough to offer a unique shopping experience.
The market is in a former warehouse, but since it is only one story high, it seems very people friendly. More than $3 million was spent to upgrade the building and to section it off into small shops all lining the many hallways. The indoor produce and dried herb market gets an outdoor feeling from the massive, hand painted wall murals depicting outdoor scenes. Entrance doors on three sides of the building are labeled with a letter of the alphabet so if you remember the letter when you enter, you should be able to get directions back to the door nearest your car. Door G on the far side of the building is nearest to the produce and dried herb market while door D on the opposite side of the building is nearest to the food court. This is the side of the building you first encounter when you drive into the parking area. So if you are looking for something to eat, take a left and park in the first parking area and enter through door D. While you can enter any door and walk through the hallways that open to all 280+ shops, knowing the area you most want to visit will cut down on unnecessary walking. There are no maps or written guides, but all of the vendors are very helpful.
There is plenty of parking on three sides of the building weekdays, but on weekends you may have to park on the street a block or two away.
Vang’s vision of a place to work, meet friends, shop and get a taste of Hmong culture appears to be drawing people from across the area. It is a welcome addition to the community.