Sunday, March 27, 2016


In the days of log cabins, horse-drawn wagons, and steamboats, forward-thinking citizens of St. Paul decided they needed a market where farmers could sell their harvest locally. St. Paul's first public market was built in 1853 and has operated continuously since then, although it has moved around to several different locations. Only fresh, locally grown or produced products are allowed to be sold there. 

We enjoyed strolling through the market in early October:


My favorite section was the fresh flowers. I think I'd come here every Saturday for a bouquet if I lived nearby:

Another great site to visit in St. Paul is Hmongtown Marketplace, a partly open-air, partly enclosed market that opened in 2009 and is now home to over 200 vendors. Getting out of the car there is like walking out of an airport and suddenly realizing you're not in Kansas (or Minnesota) anymore:
The Hmong people, refugees from war in Laos, Vietnam, Chinese, and Thailand, began to settle in the St. Paul area in the 1970s under the direction of many volunteer agencies. While they started out with high poverty levels, economic stats have shown fairly steady growth, largely do their own efforts and hard work. Recently, the Hmongtown Marketplace has given many of them opportunities to work and learn about American commerce, as well as a forum for preserving and sharing their culture.

Like the St. Paul Farmers' Market, Hmongtown provides a place to buy and sell local produce, and while there is some overlap, there are many things for sale that are very different than what we saw at the first market:

It was lunchtime, and so we made our way to the building that houses the food vendors:

A few items other than food were for sale inside. Need a hairpiece? This is the place to go:

It's always nice to see a sign like this near the food court:

After surveying all the possibilities:
Stuffed intestines? Um, no. Not for me.

This dish looks a lot more appetizing

This woman was making some kind of
sauce that had about 100 ingredients.
We ended up with these delicious dishes:

I love visiting LA's Chinatown, and for a cultural experience, this market is just as good but much easier to navigate. It's full of authentic food and goods, but in a much more condensed format than Chinatown. It's authenticity comes from the fact that it caters to and is full of the local Hmong population, which is the largest Hmong community in the country--around 66,000 people.

Hmongtown is a shopping and food lover's paradise. I understand that they are expanding. If we ever get back,  Bob can head straight for the food building, and I'll go hit the stalls to see what's new.


The Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis lived in St. Paul from 1917 to 1918--not long, but long enough to make it the hometown for the main character of his 1920 novel Main Street, Carol Milford. When Carol gets married, however, her new husband convince her to move to Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, a town loosely based on Lewis's own hometown of Sauk Center, Minnesota.

Lewis does a great job of outlining the differences between urban America and small-town America, but more importantly, he also captures the spirit of the early 20th century. 


  1. I love a good farmer's market. The Hmong market is even more fun. Some of those dresses are beautiful. I could use more hair-just not sure I could fool anyone with those dark hairpieces :).

  2. Hmongtown was much more fun than the regular farmer's market, but if you can do both, so much the better.