POSTED ON JANUARY 16, 2008:
Meet the Hmong
Family introduces atypical Southeast Asian cuisine to Tulsa
Hmong Cafe, 11197 E. 31st St.
Joey Yang and his family are pleased to finally offer Tulsans their home-cooked version of Southeast Asian cuisine in their own small restaurant in East Tulsa.
"We're family owned and operated," he says," and we want to bring our culture to the people of Tulsa," said Yang.
As general manager and part chef, Yang assists at the restaurant, but only after his full-time "desk" job ends each day. Together with his parents, Kia and Doua, Yang opened Hmong Café (the "H" is silent) in late September and has been diligently hard at work ever since.
"Mom and dad have worked (in other jobs) in Tulsa locally for over 20 years, and my mom wanted to begin her own business," reflected Yang. She soon found out that the restaurant business can be some of the toughest work around: "Cooking for the public is very different than cooking at home," he said, managing a nervous chuckle.
But it appears they have a niche in the restaurant world with their cuisine, which Yang said reflects Southeast Asian dishes. They do have a few Chinese dishes, such as Sweet and Sour Chicken and Sesame Chicken.
"There are a lot of countries in this area that have similar food, but each culture's food is a little different," Yang explained. "We share a lot of similar spices, and we use fresh herbs and vegetables. For example, Thai foods will have basil and curry."
He said the Hmong cuisine is greatly influenced by Laotian cuisine. Common Hmong ingredients include cilantro, garlic, green onion, mint, ginger and hot pepper.
The menu at Hmong Café includes: appetizers, papaya salads (which Yang says are very popular), Lahb dishes, Pho (warm rice noodle soup), rice platters and stir fry noodles.
A friend and I thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience here, as we sampled a number of the dishes across the Asian cultures. For our appetizers, we ordered the Spring Rolls ($2.49) and the Fried Wonton ($2.49). The rice-paper-wrapped rolls were filled with shrimp, meatloaf, vermicelli and fresh herbs. The blending of the very fresh ingredients was notable, especially the herbs, which appeared to be parsley, mint and basil.
Four wontons came with the appetizer order, and they were crispy, hot, creamy and rich.
I asked the server for a recommendation for my main course, and she suggested I select a Lahb dish, which Lang says is one of the signature dishes at Hmong--the other is Pho. The Lahb dishes are salads served at room temperature, garnished with fresh herbs and vegetables. I asked for the Chicken ($4.99) salad prepared very spicy, and it came extremely spicy and enjoyable. The mint, basil and green onions were especially pronounced and blended well with the chicken. Tilapia, Steamed Shrimp, Braised Duck, Ground Beef or Sliced Beef are other versions of this specialty. It was an excellent salad, fresh and light, and very filling.
My friend ordered the Hmong Sausage ($5.99), which was a generous portion of a link sausage accompanied with rice and fresh vegetables. Yang says the sausage is ordered from a company in Wisconsin owned by Hmong people.
"There is more texture in this sausage," he says. "It is not as finely ground as most sausages are, and there are also ginger and green onions inside the sausage." My friend did mention that the sausage was unlike any he had had, and found it to be an interesting and pleasing version of a breakfast pork sausage.
We also shared the Combo Fried Rice ($5.99) which had small cubed carrots, peas, beef, chicken and shrimp. This could have been a meal in itself--it was a very generous portion.
Both of us had plenty of leftovers to carry us through the next day. We ended our meal with my new favorite drink--a Boba Tea drink. Yang said, "It's an item put on the menu by my sister. It tastes a little weird."
I find its unusualness an advantage to ordinary drink. The tapioca balls add bulk and an interest to teas, slushes and flavored milk. I had the Boba Coconut Milk Tea and my friend the Boba Honeydew Milk Tea. All Boba tea drinks are $2.95.
Originally from the mountainous region of southern China, the Hmong groups began a gradual mass migration to Southeast Asia in the 18th century for political and economic reasons. Today, Hmong currently live in several countries in Southeast Asia, including northern Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar.
Yang said that, in addition to introducing Tulsans to Hmong cuisine, he also hopes to attract the growing population of Hmong people who are transplanting from Minnesota and California and settling in Owasso and Collinsville.
In addition to the cuisine, Yang has brought the Hmong culture visually into the Café's dining room with paintings and artwork reflecting the Hmong people in "a newer and contemporary atmosphere," he said.
11197 E. 31st St.
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