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Hmong Village: The tour

I love taking out-of-towners to this marketplace because it offers an altogether unexpected snapshot of Minnesota, one that has nothing to do with the clichés of lutefisk, cabins on the lake, or Ole and Lena. The large, cacophonous wonderland teems with aromas, trinkets, jewelry, tinctures, herbs, spices, shoes, headdresses, bootleg DVDs, and on and on and on. It's a wholly different and no less enduring piece of our culture, cranking away in relative obscurity thanks to the enclaves that Hmong have created in St. Paul's East Side and Frogtown. You should go, and arm yourself with this list and a little cash, as some places take cards, but others only cash. Or just point and purchase. Most items cost less than $5, and a grand feast will set you back no more than $20, a small price to pay for a transporting experience that's set right in your own Midwestern backyard.