Being a book club member for eight years has given me exposure to books I likely would not discover on my own. Sure, there have been some less than stellar picks over the years (including a trilogy in the fantasy genre), but overall, the book selections have been successful.
Just a few months ago, we read The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, by local author, Kao Kalia Yang and published by the also local Coffee House Press. The book follows a Hmong family’s journey through Laos and Thailand before finding a piece of home in St. Paul and adjusting to life in America. I became quite interested in the Hmong culture and wanted to find a way to connect the book to reality.
Arriving at 11 a.m., there were still plenty of parking spots, but many families were starting to arrive. Located in a warehouse, storage lockers serve as storefronts with vendors selling knickknacks, accounting services, massages, clothing and much more. A spacious center room is home to the produce market and a whole row is dedicated to food.
After trying a sample of Nang Kwak’s Pad See Ew ($7) and learning that the noodles were made in house, we were sold on our first dish of the trip. The noodles were firm, yet so delicate, the Chinese broccoli was lightly steamed and the sauce was full of amazing umami.
Owner Pasee Yang and his wife, Kay, moved here from Georgia to open in the Hmong Village after selling their Georgia restaurant. He is enjoying the positive response to his house-made noodles and customers state they no longer need to travel to Chicago for fresh noodles.
Another item at Nang Kwak’s is the fried rice ($6). It was made fresh on the spot with large chunks of white meat chicken, onions, peas and carrots and is one of the best fried rice dishes I’ve had.
After the great dishes at Nang Kwak’s, we were disappointed in our papaya salad ($5) from Fue’s Café. My friend spent some time in Thailand and loved papaya salad, so she was eager to bring back some flavor memories. Unfortunately, after watching in excitement as slices of papaya, cherry tomato and Thai eggplant were mashed up in a giant mortar and pestle, we did not enjoy the overall flavor. The salad was cold and perhaps was a bit over seasoned with tamarind-fish sauce. Luckily, there was more food to make up for it.
The curry noodles ($5) from Houa Phanh were quite delicious. A generous amount of noodles swam in a slightly spicy broth seasoned with curry and chili oil and packed with bean sprouts and bamboo shoots. You’ll need some chopsticks and a spoon to finish this dish.
We tried to order a vegetarian pho ($5) from Mai’s Kitchen by simply omitting the meat, but ended up with broth, noodles, bean sprouts, greens, and two shrimp. Luckily, the broth was quite flavorful and made up for the lack of ingredients and since there was plenty to share, we had no problem slurping away.
With just the two of us to split all these dishes, we packed up our leftovers and headed for dessert. I had to satisfy my bubble tea craving, so I rounded the corner to Blueberry and ordered a passion fruit and lychee boba tea ($3). It was absolutely delicious and I will be back to try more flavor combinations in the future.
The Hmong Village is open seven days a week, starting at 11 a.m. and is a great place to spend an afternoon wandering the stalls.
1001 Johnson Pkwy
St. Paul, MN 55106
*The Burnhaven Library is hosting a book club to discuss The Late Homecomer on Tuesday, Nov. 23 starting at 7 p.m. It will be held at the Barnes & Noble in Burnsville. For more information, call Maggie Hein at 952-891-0314.