Even though I lived in the Twin Cities for 26 years, I still feel like a tourist in my own hometown.
I have a North Dakota license plate and a Minneapolis area code. I spend two-thirds of my week in Iowa and rest in the Twin Cities. Sometimes we find it difficult to explain where we’re from. Do we say Minnesota or do we say North Dakota? Usually, I explain we’re from North Dakota via the Twin Cities. Being an adopted Korean doesn’t simplify the process.
Before we moved to Fargo two years ago, my husband and I created a culinary bucket list to complete before we moved. We didn’t have enough time to complete the list and it only becomes longer as new places open. When we’re home, we often return to our old favorites but now that we’re home so often, we’ve made it a goal to add some new places to our old reliables.
You can experience the Twin Cities like that badly written Reuters guide
or you can deeper than your hotel’s restaurant or a national chain like Potbelly.
Here is my weekend attempt to branch out.
United Noodles UniDeli
I’ve shopped at United Noodles countless times, but I haven’t visited their deli since it was remodeled as the UniDeli a couple of years ago. I used to visit their old restaurant and choose from their variety of homey Chinese dishes and boiled peanuts. The food was inexpensive and reminded me of that which I actually ate in China, more so than any other Chinese restaurant in town.
Things have changed since we moved. The deli’s layout is updated and offers many Japanese foods. I’ve heard many speak highly of their noodle soups so I chose a bowl of spicy miso ramen ($9).
You order at the counter and wait for the staff to call out your number. There’s complimentary hot tea to enjoy while you wait.
This huge bowl was filled with ramen noodles, seaweed, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, tiny bok choy, green onion, a slice of fish cake, half of a tea egg and a tender slice of roasted pork. Since I ordered it spicy, the miso broth was coated in a slick coat of sesame-flavored chili oil.
I went through a pile of napkins as I tried to wipe the red stains from my mouth. This soup gave a new meaning to red smile, which has a whole different meaning in Game of Thrones.
Years ago, I read Kao Kalia Yang’s beautiful autobiography The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. I’ve never forgotten Yang’s account of moving from Laos to St. Paul, MN and have since become curious about Hmong food and culture. I’ve visited the Hmongtown Market and the Hmong Village in the past and tried crunchy pork cracklings, papaya salad, fried egg rolls filled with vermicelli noodles.
I’ve always wanted to return.
On Saturday afternoon, I studied Heavy Table’s 25 Tastes of Hmong Village and left with ten dollars in my pocket. I wandered the row of food stalls and stopped at two that seemed the busiest.
Blueberry’s the place to go for bubble tea. The stand was busy and is often favorable mentioned online.
Their list of flavors seem endless. Most of the blended and not blended options cost $3, including one’s choice of pears or two types of jellies. You’ll pay a whole lot more for the same thing at the Tea Garden. I stuck with my favorite, a basic milk tea with boba pearls. When I visited my friend in southern China in 2008, we often visited the milk tea shop and it’s like my comfort food now. I don’t get too fancy with my bubble tea.
I was in the mood for sliced pork belly and that sticky, purple rice as pictured in the blog You Care What We Think, but, since it sold for $8, so I tried the sausage instead.
Long links of sausage are sold at nearly every food stand in Hmong Village. I am not sure if stands typically make their own or source them from a supplier. I stopped at Mai’s Kitchen and ordered some for $5.
The styrofoam container was loaded with the sticky rice along with sliced sausage and a tiny container of dipping sauce. The rice was lovely. Despite it’s color it tasted like white sticky rice except with a hint of salt or mineraliness.
The sausage’s flavor and aroma was pleasant with garlic and lemongrass, however, the texture threw me. On my first bite, I hit a large, firm object. Upon closer examination, it appeared to be a curl of cartilage or bone.
“Oh well, ” I thought. “It’s sausage. Such things happen.”
I picked up a different slice and bit into another hard chunk. The same thing happened on my third bite of a third slice. I’ve only read positive reviews from those who’ve tried sausage at Hmong Village, so I wonder if I received an odd link or if this vendor sources a different style.
I stuck with taking pinches of the sticky rice and dipping them into the sauce. It was spicy and tasted of fish sauce.
I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of Hmong Village. Since it’s located near my in-laws’ home, I’ll return soon.
The Buttered Tin
Finally, Jake and I ventured to the Lowertown area of downtown St. Paul for a brunch at The Buttered Tin that recently opened this summer. My Twitter feed has been ripe with people raving about meals here.
The Buttered Tin reminds us of Sun Street Breads, our favorite brunch place in Minneapolis. Both offer scratch kitchens, homemade breads, and high quality ingredients.
We enjoyed everything we ordered.
The prettiest plate was their aptly-named Damn Good Egg Sandwich. I jealously eyed the runny yolk that dripped down Jake’s hands.
I polished off the chicken club sandwich on homemade, toasted bread along with thick slices of sweet and spicy pickles and really good potato salad.
The tart ginger lemonade served in mason jars was nice, too. We left too full for dessert but noticed many carrying out cupcakes in individual plastic containers and baked goods that looked like Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies.
During a weekday lunch, customers consistently lined-up to the door, but there always seemed to be enough tables for those who wanted to dine-in.
And Finally. . .
In sad news for Fargo-Moorhead residents, Pizza Nico closed last week. It was our favorite pizza joint in town and we ordered delivery from them more than we’d like to admit. They made most everything from scratch, including sauces and cured meats. We wish the owners and staff the best. Thanks for the quality pies!