Foods & Culinary

How Chef Yia Vang honors Hmong cooking with open fire festivals

“I believe that Hmong food is not a type of food, but a philosophy of eating,” says Chef Yia Vang of Wines in Minneoli. “It’s a way of thinking about food. It tells the story of our people. ”The chef speaks about the food of his Hmong culture, which encompasses the traditions of the people of southern China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar.

He draws inspiration from these cultures for his restaurant, in which almost everything is cooked over an open flame and where he had the idea for his large-format “Vinai Festival”.

The Vinai festival stands for generosity, he explains. Once his grill is up and ready to char a mixture of Minnesota oak and charcoal, he begins making his proteins. Head and tail of prawns still covered with salt, fish sauce and chilli oil; Coffee-crusted ribs made from Sichuan peppercorn are placed in a grill over the flames. Lemongrass is pounded on a table to release the oils and stuffed into the mouths of whole snipers before putting it on the grill. A dry grated chicken is prepared for the fire, and a complex pork marinade is prepared.

“Pork is very important to the Hmong,” he explains. “If you think of a food pyramid, pork is basically the entire bottom third for the Hmong.” He marinates his pork in what he calls “Hmong Sofrito”, made from lemongrass, ginger, garlic, shallots, Thai chilies Chilli oil, tamarind, fish sauce, oyster sauce and Korean chilli flakes. He lets it cook low and slowly and caramelize far from the flame.

As soon as the grilled meat and fish are ready, he covers a long table with banana leaves and lays out all the ingredients including vegetables, rice and noodles for the communal gathering. “Our cultural DNA is intricately woven into the food we eat,” he explains. “And when you dine with us, you don’t just eat, you participate in our story.”

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