Over the past few years, I have been dining, shopping, and otherwise enjoying the semi-insane experience that is the Hmongtown Marketplace. Crushed shell gravel, unmarked lanes, and pot holes deep and wide make the parking lot a challenging entrance. When I do get a good spot— which is almost never because the place is packed on weekends and we always go on weekends—my seven-year-old, Sonia, cheers, “rock star parking…Yesss!”
Inside the market, a wall of noise awaits. Entrepreneurs entice their customers with loud music, mumbling prayer, blaring Hmong language pop tunes, bull fight videos (that is bull on bull, not fancy pants with red capes poking bulls with swords), and just plain, no-holds-barred loudness.
The market stands on what used to be Knox Lumberyard. I buy mangoes in the exact same spot I once purchased Marvin storm windows.
A butcher shop opened at the market nearly two months ago. It appears clean and well run. I talked with some of the counter people, and they told me they are supplied by Husnick Meats, a locally owned meat processing facility in South St Paul. Open coolers, well stocked with mostly variety meats, line the walls of the butchery department. I counted five different stomach varieties, beef tendons, chicken feet and turkey gizzard, all fresh. There are also packages of oh-my-god-what-did-they-feed-these-birds-sized chickens and fresh head-on, feet-on, lean and gamey “Hmong chickens,” as well as a selection of muscle-based cuts of pork and beef, including loin and shoulder.
This week at the market, after polishing off my usual—a thick spiced papaya and she-crab salad—I brought home Guyaba (white guava), a small, sometimes creamy and strongly perfumed tropical fruit. Guayaba are soft and strange and studded with small stone seeds, too numerous to avoid. And yes, my kids love them. I keep them in my kitchen in a bowl on the counter, and I can smell their exotic perfume all the way into the dining room. Some of the most intoxicating foods are all about the nose. This is one of them. Think ripe fruit, honeyed hay, and a firm reminder that fruit is the responsible party in plant reproduction. This three-bite wonder can be eaten like a pit-less peach or apricot, but chew gingerly or suffer the consequential tiny seeds impacted into your teeth. You can peel them, scoop out the seeds, stew them with sugar vanilla and a splash of lime juice, puree them, and enjoy Guayaba paste jelly. But the truth is, mostly I just like to smell these little fruits, cut them in half, and serve them with yogurt and honey, and pretend like storms and 50-degree weather isn’t expected again this week.