Hmongtown Marketplace: SE Asia in Minnesota

hmongtown marketplace farmers market

So many veggies and fruits at the Hmongtown Marketplace Farmer’s Market

Minnesota’s Diversity

Minneapolis and St. Paul are much more diverse than we imagined. When we visited a couple of years ago, we learned that Minneapolis has the largest Somali population in the US and the second largest Ethiopian and Vietnamese populations. It turns out that the Hmong population here is the largest outside Laos! The 2010 census reported 66,000 ethnic Hmong in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. There’s even a business/cultural district in St. Paul called “Little Mekong” located between Mackubin and Galtier streets along University Avenue. This district, of course, is named for the Mekong River that runs from China through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, connecting the cultures of Southeast Asia.

hmongtown marketplace

Hmongtown Marketplace

The Hmong people arrived in the area mostly as refugees. Many came during the late 1970s and early 1980s, but there are new waves arriving from time to time. There is a Hmong Cultural Center near the main concentration of shops. Then, there are two main Hmong markets: Hmong Village (located on Johnson Street) and Hmongtown Marketplace. We read up on each and decided to visit the latter. We’ll have to save the delights of Hmong Village for another trip. Located just north of “Little Mekong” on Como Avenue, Hmongtown Marketplace is the perfect place to explore this side of St. Paul, and satisfy your cravings for good Hmong food, shop for traditional clothing, grab some Hmong videos and load up on fresh fruits and veggies! We spent an afternoon at Hmongtown Marketplace doing just that.

Sausage and Purple Rice

Hmong Sausage and Purple Sticky Rice

Coconut Chicken Curry

Coconut Curry Chicken Noodle Soup

Keep an eye out for these dishes!

Not to be outdone by Andrew Zimmern on his visit to St. Paul, we had to explore what Hmongtown had to EAT. Hmong curry noodles are similar to those found in Cambodia or Thailand. The balance of sweetness and spiciness of the Hmong version is, for us, just right. Papaya Salad is made as you watch with a giant mortar and pestle. Spice levels are authentic for Southeast Asia, so ask for medium unless you’re feeling bold. Juicy, meaty Hmong sausage was delicious accompanied by purple sticky rice. Don’t forget to try some of that famous tri-color Nab Vam (Nava) drink too. There’s one whole stall dedicated to every bubble tea flavor you can think of. Rose milk tea is highly recommended (by me)! We went home with a package of spring rolls and a bunch of unidentified colorful snacks. Prices in the food court area were all very reasonable, but you’ll be better off bringing cash. Some vendors are cash only.


Colorful peppers at the Farmer’s Market

Farmer’s Market

The Farmer’s Market section is filled with all sorts of fresh fruits and veggies. We recognized some from past travels in Southeast Asia, while we had no idea what many other items were. Vendors speak varying levels of English, but are more than willing to try and help or explain. We got a huge piece of fresh ginger at a great price, plus some rambutans and lychees. If you know your herbs, you’re likely to be able to find whatever Southeast Asian variety you’re looking for here. They’re all tied up in bundles, and some seemed to be grouped together, ready for use in preparing specific dishes.


Hmongtown Marketplace clothing selection

Traditional Hmong clothing

Traditional Clothing, Medicine, Housewares and More

Hmongtown Marketplace has many stalls dedicated to traditional Hmong clothing items: hats, skirts, shirts, etc. The embroidery is amazing. Other vendors specialize in medicines, very interesting to browse.

The Hmong Cultural Center, located nearby, has an extensive collection of Hmong literature, research and materials. You can walk in any time they’re open and learn something of Hmong history, culture and the US experience.

Medicines and roots at the market

Medicines, roots and beauty products at the market

Destination USA: Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store

Minnesota's Largest Candy Store

By TurtlesTravel

Jim's Apple Farm in Jordan, MN

  • Pumpkins, Gourds and Squash

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  • Gourds

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  • Everyone Loves Bacon

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  • Loads of Licorice!

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  • Tons of Taffy!

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  • Candy Cigs

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    Brings back childhood memories.

  • Resistance is Futile

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  • Wall of Sodas

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  • Map of Minnesota

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  • The Bacon Section

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    Everything from bacon chocolate to bacon toothpaste!

Driving south on MN 169, approaching the small town of Jordan, there are many yards of bright, yellow fencing. This leads to the must-see destination Jim’s Apple Farm, also known as Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. A road-trip may be your best bet for finding the place, since they don’t have a website, or even a phone number online! This family business does things differently, some would say the old-fashioned way. We saw Robert Wagner, the son who currently runs the store, working hard out on the floor while we were there. The family has farmed in the area for generations. One year, after a poor apple harvest, they tried putting out some candy and other items to supplement the income. Things snowballed from there!

Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store

The original building has been expanded five times, now sprawling to over the length of a football field. We visited at a great time of year, and the outside area was set up with a colorful and varied assortment of squash, gourds and pumpkins.  Inside, there is a big section of fresh-picked apples, with knives out for sampling. Moving along there are shelves filled with pickled vegetables, sauces, soup mixes, hot sauce and other dry goods. There is a bakery offering delicious homemade pies and scones, and a refrigerator with local sausages and meats. Deeper into the store is the “puzzle” section, boasting the largest selection of puzzles in the world. People loaded up baskets with jigsaw puzzles, soon to be Christmas gifts for happy kids and grandkids.

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The Candy!

Then there’s the candy. If you’ve got a favorite, from pretty much any era or region, chances are you’ll find it here. From fudge and taffy to candy cigarettes, Kinder eggs, fancy chocolate bars in every imaginable flavor and cocoa content, the elusive Sugar Daddy, Moon pies, candy buttons, scorpion pops. The list is endless.

Licorice has a space all its own. Not all are enamored of licorice and its unique flavor, but I am a super-fan. This was the second time we’d visited the store, so I was already excited to load up on my favorite Dutch varieties. Some are sweet, some salty (Salmiak), some seem to be both. Even among the salty varieties, you can choose from light salt to very salty or double salt. There is also the option of hard or soft. One of our favorites has menthol. The licorice is also distinguished by its shape. Among those we purchased: Scheepstouw are hard with a brown salmiak coating, and a strong salmiak center, shaped like ship ropes. Donny tried one and won’t touch them again if he can help it. Personally, I love them, though the first minute or two are intense. We both love the lightly salty, soft, herring-shaped licorice. There are also many kinds of “All-Sorts,” fruity layered stacks and round shapes with soft, mild licorice.

Before heading to the register, be sure to check out the Bacon section, with everything from bacon-themed Band-aids to bacon mints, toothpaste, candies and even bacon soda.

150 Kinds of Root Beer

Speaking of soda, the front of the store houses the extensive soda collection, boasting 150 kinds of rootbeer alone. Even non-soda drinkers are duly tempted. I couldn’t resist Moxie in the old glass bottle. (For those uninitiated, Moxie is a soft drink flavored with gentian root, along the lines of Mr. Pibb or Dr. Pepper, but more bitter, less sweet. It’s the official soft drink of Maine, though it was invented in Massachusetts.) Donny opted for a vanilla creme root beer. Other choices included birch beer, sarsaparilla and a wide variety of international brands, fruit flavors and novelty flavors like cookie dough or pumpkin pie.

The store is open 7 days a week from mid-June to November from 9 am to about 7 pm. Credit cards are not accepted, cash only, but there are ATMs onsite!

Destination USA: Minnesota State Fair

Gallery of Minnesota State Fair Highlights

Minnesota State Fair

By TurtlesTravel

A photo collection from a weekend at the Minnesota State Fair 2014

  • Fair Rides

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  • State Fair Taffy

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  • Corn Roast Workers

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  • Fried Fruit on a Stick

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  • Giant Slide

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  • Equine Barn

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  • Deep Fried Twinkies

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  • Martha's Cookies

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  • The Corn Roast

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  • Double Bacon Corn Dogs

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Memories of the Fair

I have wonderful memories of Cape Cod’s Barnstable County Fair, an annual event dating back to 1844! We’d eat fried dough and cotton candy, ride the rides ’til we were dizzy and watch my sister participate in the horse shows. On really special years, we got to visit to The Big “E,” in western Massachusetts. The Big “E” brings together the six New England States: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. I loved to buy maple candy in the Vermont building, and try my luck at the ring toss and throwing darts at balloons or squirting water into the clown’s mouth for a chance at winning a huge stuffed animal.

Agricultural Roots

Fairs and festivals are fascinating snapshots of society. Most state fairs in the US have agricultural roots. People came together around the finest livestock, new farming methods, and industrial and commercial innovations. Fairs have always included competitions like cow milking, pulling, best of breed, horse shows, awards for the largest or most beautiful vegetables or fruits, baking and cooking contests. (TIME has a slideshow with some wonderful historical photos!) Over the years, exhibitors expanded to include handicrafts, art and business demonstrations. On the entertainment front, the midway always includes classic rides like the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round, new high-intensity rides, and games of chance and skill. At the fair you can also satisfy a taste for the bizarre with “freak shows” and spectacles designed to thrill and amaze. There are concerts and performances to enjoy on stages and grandstands as well.

We’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of state fairs in our travels as mobile marketing tour managers. These long, multiple days at the fair have given us a unique perspective. We’ve seen the famous Butter Cow at the Ohio State Fair, and taken part in local dancing in the shadow of Big Tex at the Texas State Fair. We’ve attended the Minnesota State Fair not once but twice! This one was hectic, but we still made time to walk around and take in the sights. This year the fair had the highest attendance in its 150 year history, with the last Saturday seeing over 252,000 people. Total attendance over the 12 days of the fair came in at 1,824,830!

Minnesota State Fair History

The Minnesota State Fair is one of the country’s largest and most well-known. The first was held in 1859. Like most state fairs, the early focus was on agricultural exhibits and competitions. The horse barn dates back to the 1930s, and was built through a program that offered people jobs during the Great Depression. I caught the tail end (pun intended) of the last horse show, as cowgirls walked their steeds back to their stalls. I still haven’t realized my dream of seeing an animal born in the Miracle of Birth center, where almost 200 calves, lambs, goats and piglets are born during the fair. Among other historic spots, the Space Tower, built in 1965, was modeled after Seattle’s Space Needle. There are panoramic views of the whole fairgrounds from the top. There are more great views from the Skyglider, a more recent addition in 2001. Of course, the aspect of fair history we were most interested in is food at the fair!

The workers at the Corn Roast.  What a production.

The workers at the Corn Roast. What a production.

Fair Food

In the early days of the fair, you had to bring your own food, like a picnic. Later, church groups began preparing foods and bringing them for sit-down meals for the congregation and others. The tradition lives on. This year, we saw the Hamline Church Dining Hall, feeding hungry fairgoers since 1887, serving up everything from biscuits and gravy for breakfast, burgers and sandwiches for lunch and dinner to Jello salad ice cream in flavors like Church Elder “Berry.” Over time, eating became a main fair focus. Each year people anxiously await the announcement of new fair foods for the current year.

Food on a stick is always highlighted at the Minnesota State Fair, and you can find everything from pie on a stick to fried pickles or lobster on a stick. Deep-fried items are also hot. There are classics like deep-fried Oreos and candy bars and newcomers like this year’s “Deep-Fried Breakfast on a Stick,” described as “American and Swiss cheeses, a sausage patty, one egg and Canadian bacon all sandwiched between two pancakes, then dipped in a light, sweet batter and deep-fried on-a-stick.”

Our favorites this year included PB&J French Toast, a breakfast cichetti of sausage and egg in a bread cone, roasted corn, various skewers and beer gelato! The roasted corn stand was an attraction by itself. There were literally dozens of young people shucking, cooking, roasting, and serving. First you buy a ticket, then make your way up to the Corn Roast counters to get your treat. The corn was fresh and delicious, buttery, salty and satisfying. Another fair favorite is Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar. These chocolate chip delights are sold for $15 for an overflowing bucket. Everything is made onsite, and served fresh and hot out of the oven. Martha’s is said to gross over $2.4 million during the 12 days of the fair, more than any other vendor. About a million cookies are sold each day of the Minnesota State Fair!

Destination USA: NASCAR

Destination USA NASCAR

Since our work involves constant travel, we have had the unique opportunity to spend extended periods of time in different parts of the United States. Since that same work involves marketing, we regularly become intimately familiar with different demographics and subcultures we might not otherwise get to know so well. This is the case with NASCAR and its fans all over the country. For two years, we transported a NASCAR show car for a client who wanted it displayed it at their local distributors and for their best customers. Unlike many of our typical mobile marketing tours, this one was focused more on customer appreciation than building brand recognition. As part of that mobile marketing tour for USG (United States Gypsum), we were often in town just before the main races in our region, the West, so we were able to attend a number of races over the two years we worked on that project.

A Brief History of NASCAR

NASCAR stands for National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.  It started in 1948 by Bill France Sr. and is now run by his grandson, Brian France.  There are 3 different series in the top competitive classes, Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.  The names are all paid sponsorships which change from time to time.

They say the origins of NASCAR go back to the bootlegging days during prohibition in the United States.  Enterprising men in the south would have the need to modify their cars in order to hold maximum product while still being about to outrun the law.  This bred great knowledge about cars and engineering for speed and handling.  The first NASCAR race was held in Daytona, Florida the current headquarter city, half on the beach and half on highway A1A.  The modern day venues for these races are enormous in size and attendance (and revenue).  The largest track is Talladega, at 2.66 miles around.  As for attendance, the Brickyard in Indianapolis, the same track as the Indy 500, regularly sees 400,000 fans pack its stands.  By comparison the largest football (which many think of as the most popular sport in the US) stadium in the country is Michigan Stadium, University of Michigan, with 109,901 seats!

Destination USA NASCAR

Attending a NASCAR Race

Attending a NASCAR Cup race is a fun experience. NASCAR fans are die-hard and passionate. Their enthusiasm is contagious. When you arrive at the track, you’re sure to be astounded at the vast number of souvenir stands selling everything NASCAR-related. Fans all have their favorite driver, and they are truly loyal. Race-day outfits most often include a T-shirt, jacket and/or hat with the driver’s number or photo on it.  There are also often lots of booths promoting different products and brands. Then there’s the food and beer. Eating food (typical fare of any big sporting event) and drinking lots of beer seem to be high on the agenda for attendees. At most races there is an area set up for RVs. Some camp for the whole weekend and put on their won spreads at mini-parties on the grounds. Just before the race begins, the national anthem is sung, and a prayer is said. Yes, a prayer. Religion plays a noticeable role in NASCAR, and some of its most prominent figures regularly talk about or demonstrate their faith. This can come as a surprise to newcomers to the track, as it did to me the first time. During the race, some people wear ear protection. It’s REALLY loud. There’s a lot of strategy involved, but in simplest terms, the first guy over the finish line wins. Check out this article by Bleacher Report for a nice round-up of Things You Must Do When Attending A NASCAR Race.

Destination USA NASCAR

Our NASCAR Experiences

Our first race of the season in June, 2006 was at Infineon Raceway, Sonoma, CA. This track is one of the two road courses each season. The remaining 34 races are on oval tracks. This track is a 2-mile course with 12 turns, both left and right. It’s demanding on drivers because there is more braking and shifting involved than usual. The race is 350 miles, and took just under 4 hours. At this race, Cheech Marin was the Grand Marshall!
Before the race began, Donny and I represented USG in presenting a $5000 check to Casey Mears, who gained the most positions during the previous week’s race in Michigan. We looked great up on the big-screen Jumbotron, by the way. At Infineon, it was both fun and educational to have access to the garage and pits before and during the race. (We had what’s called a Hot Pass.) This is where the real action happens. We saw the cars being inspected prior to the race. During the race, the pit crews never stop monitoring, analyzing and adjusting. When drivers pull in, it’s a race to get them back out on the track as soon as possible. It’s pretty amazing how tires can be changed and a car can be filled with fuel from empty in a matter of seconds. Ultimately, Jeff Gordon, in the Dupont #24 car, won the race. A word of advice to anyone who might attend a race at Infineon though: Remember where you parked. We ended up taking two shuttles then walking for more than an hour through the rolling fields in search of our truck.

The following year, in April of 2007, we attended a race at the Texas Motor Speedway. Donny was able to invite an old friend (from as far back as kindergarten) and his wife to share the day, and we had a blast, especially during the last few laps when Matt Kenseth was in the lead. (He was the driver of the show car we were hauling around at the time).

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a NASCAR race, do it!  At least you’ll have a fascinating day of people watching. At best you’ll gain an appreciation for this often misunderstood sport, and maybe even become a new fan.

Inside TurtlesTravel: 2013 Highlights

2013 was a year of replenishment and renewal. Having returned from a year-long, extended trip in 2012, it was time to build up some funds again. Short trips early in the year took us to Kiawah Island, Savannah and the Virgin Islands. In the early spring we focused on health and exercise, trying to work off winter’s excesses. From May to December we managed a mobile marketing tour for a new wireless company, spending more time in Texas than we ever had before, and really enjoying it. Side trips during our work contract included Galveston Island and the Florida Keys. Enjoy this review of our 2013 highlights.

2013 Highlights: Cape Cod


2013 Highlights: Cape Cod

January- Cape Cod


Cape Cod is known as a summer resort, but visiting in winter can be just as rewarding. It’s almost a January tradition for us to delight in long walks on windswept beaches, dine in warm restaurants serving steaming cups of clam “chowdah,” and enjoy the peaceful tranquility of winter. Check out our Pinterest board on why to visit the Cape off-season.

February: Savannah

February: Savannah


A birthday road-trip to Savannah, GA was a real treat! It was my first time there, and we explored the Downtown Historic District, ate some amazing meals, toured historic homes and scouted out the famous Bonaventure Cemetery with its fascinating sculptures and notable burials.

March: Caribbean, Virgin Islands

March: Caribbean, Virgin Islands


The US Virgin Islands were a perfect late-winter getaway. St. Thomas was our base, and a timeshare exchange provided a cushy lodging option with lovely sunsets. We strolled the beaches, found a great walking tour of historic downtown Charlotte Amalie, went scuba-diving, and indulged in awesome day-trips to St. John and Virgin Gorda (part of the British Virgin Islands).

April: Atlanta, Georgia

April: Atlanta, Georgia


April was quiet on the travel front, but we were happy to spend some quality time with Donny’s family in Atlanta. The spring blooms on our nearly-daily runs (yeah for exercise-filled April) were beautiful.

May: Silver Run Preserve (Willis Tract), Southern Appalachian Mountains inJackson and Transylvania Counties, North Carolina

May: Silver Run Preserve (Willis Tract), Southern Appalachian Mountains inJackson and Transylvania Counties, North Carolina


Ancestry research is one of our hobbies when we have down-time.  Donny’s second cousin three-times removed was a man named Ernest Willis. Mr. Willis donated a tract of land not far from the small town of Cashiers, North Carolina to the Nature Conservancy in order to ensure its perpetual protection.  The walk through the Silver Run Preserve highlighted the special features of the region that make it a unique home for a diversity of animals and plants, including a number of endangered and threatened species.

June: Houston, Texas

June: Houston, Texas


Houston turned out to be a foodie’s paradise. We devoured everything from BBQ to Vietnamese to dishes from specialists in the locally-sourced like Underbelly. After we passed the 30-day mark in town, we were informed by our hotel that we were officially Texas residents. Now that was something new for perpetual wanderers like us!

July: Galveston, Texas

July: Galveston, Texas


The barrier island of Galveston was a much-needed break in an otherwise hectic work schedule. From a driving tour of public art to a walk along the Strand and a round of mini-golf, we thoroughly enjoyed our day. We capped it off with po’boys and beers with an ocean view at Jimmy’s on the Pier.

August: Mandeville, Lousiana

August: Mandeville, Lousiana


Another breakdown of our work vehicle, this time in Mandeville, Louisiana meant we could explore this small town on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. There are a couple of historic jazz venues in Mandeville, and Abita Brewery is right nearby, but the real highlight for us was a romantic dinner at Rips on the Lake. We sat at one of the high-tops out on the patio with a great view starting the meal with garlicky Jumbo Crab Legs and followed by Fresh Drum, served with sautéed crawfish tails and artichoke hearts. Blueberry bread pudding, made in-house capped the meal off perfectly.

September: Cocoa Beach, Florida

September: Cocoa Beach, Florida


On the east coast Florida we found our center again at the beach.  Melbourne Beach, Cocoa Beach, Pelican Island National Reserve, Merritt Island: each with its own unique charm. It was also our first taste of some real café con leche and authentic Cuban food in a very long while. Happy campers.

October: Key West, Florida

October: Key West, Florida


There were so many highlights in October, it was hard to choose just one. We canoed through alligator-infested waterways near Tampa, stayed at Marriott’s Grande Vista Resort in Orlando, and caught up with my beautiful goddaughter and her family in Miami.  We ate way too many crab legs in Ft. Lauderdale and escaped for a few days down to Key West. The Turtle Hospital on Marathon Key was our favorite discovery on that trip.

November: Dallas, Texas

November: Dallas, Texas


In Dallas we got lucky! Three broken axles on our trailer for work (as unlucky as that may sound!) resulted in some much-needed time off. We rediscovered Dinosaur Valley State Park, saw the Animals Inside Out exhibit at the Perot Museum, devoured like the foodies we are, and shared Donny’s very first drive-in movie.

December: Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles, California

December: Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles, California


Los Angeles was the last stop on our mobile marketing tour. In the final weeks, we were crunched for time, but still managed a walk along Manhattan Beach. Photos posted from that walk resulted in a fun meet-up with an old college friend.  Through work, we made some great new friends as well!


Happy New Year!

We have absolutely no plans for 2014. Will we look for another experiential marketing tour to save up some more funds? Try out house-sitting? Set off on another extended trip? I guess it’s time to start planning. . . We look forward to sharing another year of fun and adventures!