For one weekend a year, the area between University Avenue West and Western Avenue in St. Paul is shut down and blocked off, making room for over 70 local food vendors, performers and artists to take over for the Little Mekong Night Market.
Offering foods like fried green tea ice cream, papaya salad, Thai-style hot dogs and Japanese raindrop cakes, the market showcased the delicious diversity of Twin Cities cuisine last weekend.
Based off traditional night markets in Southeast Asia, the Little Mekong market is the only one of its kind in the Midwest, according to the Asian Economic Development Association.
“I’m so glad that Minnesota is finally opening up to more flavors,” said Ericka Trinh, owner of wholesale business Silhouette Bakery and Cafe.
Trinh said she has been at the market since it first opened in a small parking lot behind a nearby building. After watching it grow into the thriving community event it is today, she said the market brings attention to local business owners like herself.
Dishing out pork buns decorated with small fuzzy soot sprites featured in Studio Ghibli animated films, Trinh is influenced by various Asian cuisines while creating new dishes.
“I have flavors from everywhere,” Trinh said. “My buns are Japanese-inspired but then I put Chinese barbecue pork inside them. And I do Korean-style pulled pork for my walking ramen. I just like flavor, mix it up and then put my little spin on it.”
For Ka Vang, who helped run the Vue Appétit tent, the market was an opportunity to share a bit of her culture.
Selling bottles of homemade Hmong salad dressing, the Vue family passed out samples to those walking past, encouraging market-goers to try something new.
“I think everyone’s a bit curious because it’s yellow,” laughed Vang, the owner’s sister-in-law. “You don’t really hear about [Hmong salad dressing], and growing up I did eat it, but it was really time-consuming to make. And I just thought, ‘Hey — if we could present it, it could be more convenient for people to enjoy.’”
Past the seemingly endless line of food vendors selling drinks like fresh sugar cane juice and bubble tea was a section of the market where local businesses sold homemade goods like jewelry, paintings and clothes.
Hta Thi Yu Moo, weaving and civil engagement coordinator for the Karen Organization of Minnesota, ran a table that sold hand-woven shirts, bags, table runners and scarves.
The non-profit she works for helps Burman refugees adjust to life in Minnesota, offering a weaving circle where women can come together to weave traditional patterns and preserve the cultural art form.
“Our language, our clothes, our traditional culture will be maintained still until the next generation through weaving,” she said.
The ability to share their work at the market gave people the chance to learn more about her culture and history, she said. Sometimes people will recognize the motifs and stories depicted in the patterns on her fabric, even if they are not part of the Karen community.
“We’re not that well known by others, [but through this market] they know more about our culture and clothing,” she said. “They feel it, they touch it you know? They enjoy it.”