As excitement about Asian and Asian-inspired cuisine builds from a murmur to a dull roar (think Dumpling, Mrs. Dumpling, Tori Ramen, Young Joni, Jun, etc., etc.), it’s worth remembering that there are a great number of longstanding, first-generation Asian food establishments already firmly planted in Minnesota soil.
Ha Tien Market (above) is a favorite stop for any University Avenue food fanatic. Though compact, it’s a well-curated Asian market, and its pocket-sized deli puts out some of the most reliably tasty banh mi in the state. The store’s success — as confirmed by the constant crowds — has led to its opening a second location just off of Highway 94 on Suburban Avenue in St. Paul in a massive old Byerly’s grocery store. The new Ha Tien Supermarket promises to do everything the original market does, and quite a bit more. Five observations based on a recent visit:
1. It’s Big
Not Dragon Star big, but sprawling not only in terms of number of aisles and variety of goods per aisle, but also in the width of the aisles — four shopping carts could pass one another with ease in some of the larger expanses of the store. The store’s Byerly’s-era carpeting is far from standard for an Asian market, but it does make entering the store a dramatic and disorienting experience.
2. The Deli Isn’t Open (Yet)
The lack of a functional deli is a real shame. The stellar barbecue pork bahn mi and other deli favorites at Ha Tien’s University Avenue store lie at the heart of its appeal. The deli is slated to open in mid-February. If it does, and the banh mi (etc.) match up to what’s offered on University, it’ll be a real game changer. For now, it’s just a large dark hole in the corner of the store.
3. It’s Two Stores In One
Depending upon how you slice it, of course, any given Asian grocery store could be four or five stores in one, including a deli, a butcher counter, a seafood shop, a pharmacy (etc., etc.) But Ha Tien is all of that PLUS a straight-up, no-twist American grocery store located in the western 40 percent of the building. All your tube-delivered cinnamon rolls / milk, eggs, and butter / General Mills cereal needs can be addressed by this somewhat surprising store-within-a-store.
4. You Want Blood? They Got Blood
From pork blood to frozen crabs to all manner of pureed, disassembled, and otherwise conveniently packaged mammals, fish, and other life-forms, Ha Tien runs the gamut of exotic and challenging proteins. The cereal aisle may be a concession to conventional Lutheran tastes, but the store overall is a no-holds-barred collection of Asian staples and esoterica of all sorts.
5. Also, There Are Noodles
Aisles of noodles. Stacks and boxes and reams of noodles. Noodles as far as the eye can see, in all widths and varieties. You would certainly expect noodles at an Asian market, but we’re here to report that Ha Tien takes this particular mission extremely seriously.
If Ha Tien keeps developing its capacity — opening its bakery and deli at a University Avenue level of quality, and thoroughly organizing its wares — it promises to rank among the top Asian markets in the area. Those are big ifs that are worth following up on, so we’ll be back sometime this spring to see how things are coming together.
Ha Tien Super Market, 1959 Suburban Ave, St. Paul, MN; 651.340.1321