The Sun Foods Hmong Market (above) offers fresh fruit and vegetables at affordable prices, such as the bucket of eggplant (lower right) for $5.
Photos by Ashley Hung ’16.
As a Mac student, I’m all about supporting local businesses and eating local food. I wouldn’t consider myself a locavore by any means, but I try to do what I can. One of my favorite things about summer and fall is the availability of farm-fresh organic produce at dirt cheap prices (maybe because the veggies are still actually dirty). Many people will flock to the downtown St. Paul Farmer’s Market (even with a free Metro Transit pass), but I am often disappointed at the diversity of produce they offer. Being the writer of an Asian foods column, I like to shop for Asian produce. So where do I turn when the downtown market leaves something to desire?
Every Friday through Sunday through the end of October, the parking lot of Sun Foods (554 University Ave. W, St. Paul) hosts a pop-up outdoor market. This has been my go to grocery getting location since I discovered it in June. I’ve only missed a week at the market twice since I found out about it, and only because I was out of town. Any chance I get, I bring a friend along to experience it for the first time. Each time I go, I hear at least 4 languages within a 20-30 minute trip (and I secretly eavesdrop a little to practice my Chinese listening). Here are my top five reasons to visit for yourself:
The pop-up market sells almost all of the same things you could get at the downtown market and more. Maybe you won’t find the frou-frou offerings that the downtown market has, like handmade pita + hummus, but you CAN buy a hamburger basket of Thai chilis for $1 (which is insanely cheap). Several of the items sold at the pop-up market are in bulk, so you can freeze them and stock up for winter, when they won’t be in season. Other more interesting offerings: long beans, giant green onions (2 feet or longer), baby squash, ground cherries, purple and white corn.
It’s cheaper than the grocery store or the downtown market (and everything is an even dollar amount). Need I say more? College budget + farmer’s market = extra money for snacks at Target later. Plus you’ll never be the person holding up the line while trying to dig out 7 pennies so you don’t have even more change to carry around later. This week I bought probably a 3-gallon bucket full of Chinese eggplant for just $5. $5! That’s a whole basket of footlongs for just $5!
It’s convenient to get to. It’s just east down University (easy to get to by car), or you can just hop on the bus, which stops right in front of the market. So there’s no long walking distance when you have a bunch of groceries to carry back with you because you over-purchased when you saw how cheap everything was.
If there’s anything you can’t find, chances are you can pop into Sun Foods and find what you’re looking for. The only groceries I buy that I can’t get at the market are bread, dairy, meat and orange juice. This is a vegetarian’s haven! Plus, Sun Foods is a huge Asian grocer that has an expansive seafood selection, a jewelry store inside and a deli (try the egg rolls or samosas for less than $1 if you venture in).
It feels good to support local farmers. I really feel like buying farmer’s market produce is somehow more honest than shopping at Cub or Whole Foods. The vendors make you feel like you’re supporting hard-working people. Go and do the Macalester thing, get outside of the bubble and support local business.
Challenge: Take $10 with you to the market and see if you can’t buy enough produce to last you for an entire week or longer. If you have stored grains or pasta at home, this will be really easy.
Extra challenge: Try a new kind of produce you’ve never had before.