Phongsavan, the Hmong market in Milwaukee, is well worth a visit. It's tiny compared to its Saint Paul counterparts
but there's nothing quite like it in Chicago. The building, a converted auto parts store immediately south of the CVS store on 76th, has no formal sign except for several small placards advertising Hmong businesses.
The front entrance is the yellow door closest to CVS. For the food-related businesses, keep heading toward the back of the building, past the small stalls selling videos, clothing and cosmetics until you reach the bright, high-ceilinged food area.
The northern third of this room is devoted to packaged foods, the middle to fresh produce, and the other end to prepared food. Sister's Café, at one side of the seating area, sells mostly cold items.
Some are usual SE Asian snacks such as banh mi, papaya salad, spring rolls and leaf-wrapped sticky rice.
Sister's also sells some specifically Hmong items such as a sweet and sticky steamed cornbread (ncuav pob kws*).
One of the more interesting offerings is seasoned steamed eggs.
Tahauj cub xyaw qe are made by extracting the insides of raw eggs, adding seasonings such as fish sauce and black pepper, and squirting the mixture back into the intact shells.
On the other side of the dining area is a restaurant serving hot foods from a steam table and hot box.
Top of hot box: steamed whole fish, egg rolls, sausage. Bottom: two types of roast pork, whole ducks. The selection varies from day to day and hour to hour but it's a good bet there will be Hmong-style sausages (nyhuv ntxwm hmoob). These coarse textured beauties don't have the fermented flavor of some Thai sausages but they're really tasty with the hot and sour (very!) dipping sauce.
Eggrolls (kab yob), filled with glass noodles and ground chicken, are really good. Load up, especially if they're fresh out of the fryer.
Sticky purple rice (txhuv ntsav) is always available, excellent, an essential order. If stuffed chicken wings (kooj tis qaib ntim) are on offer don't pass them up.
They're stuffed with the same filling as the egg rolls. I can't imagine anyone not liking these. Steamed fish probably wouldn't be as much of a crowd pleaser.
That coating looks complex and delicious but it was surprisingly hot and monotonous. The fish wasn't awful but there's better stuff.Khaub poob
, noodles in coconut-enriched chicken broth is well worth ordering if it's available. Ditto for the chicken and eggplant curry in the background (both are $4 for a generous serving).
This pork option was decent but not terribly exciting. The pork belly (I think) might be the better choice.
You never know what will turn up. There's a good chance you'll find the classic Hmong bitter offal stew, containing a variety of inner meats seasoned with bile. I think that's it at the front right of the steam table photo above.
For me, the prepared Hmong food is the big draw but the market area is pretty good, though probably not worth a special trip from Chicago.
The produce section has some less common items such as mangosteens, longans and baby mangoes.
There's always a wide variety of greens, most in very good condition.
Some of the produce is pre-wrapped but when it's as lovingly done as with these mushrooms it's not so annoying. The grocery store in the center of the building is also worth exploring. Much of the stock will be familiar to anyone who frequents the Asian markets of Chicago but there's definitely some different stock, including a good selection of frozen Hmong sausages imported from Saint Paul. Red Boat fish sauce can be bought for a dollar less than on Argyle.
There are plans to significantly expand
I'm not sure of the current timetable but I don't think it's happening this spring (note that "2013" has been pasted over an earlier year).
If you can't make it to Saint Paul, Phongsavan is a good substitute. Phongsavan has been mentioned here numerous times, though with little detail about the food: 1
Milwaukee's Asian Market
6300 N 76th St
Milwaukee WI* The Hmong language has traditionally been spoken only, but in the 1950s, Western missionaries devised a written Hmong language, the Romanized Popular Alphabet. The fifty-some consonants are rendered by Roman consonants, either singly or in combinations (double, triple, quadruple). The fourteen vowels are indicated by various combinations of a, e, i, o, u and w. In general words are monosyllabic but can be spoken with one of seven tones. The final consonant indicates the tone. This explains a bit about words such as ntxwm (part of the word for sausage): a combination of consonant (ntx) + vowel (w) + tone marker (m, indicating the low-falling tone). A general introduction can be found here and here is a dictionary with useful background.Edited to restore photo links.
Last edited by Rene G
on July 18th, 2016, 4:51 pm, edited 2 times in total.