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Little Mekong Night Market brings the Twin Cities to Asia

The Little Mekong district is preparing for another community festival inspired by the night markets of Asia.
Junior Chai Lee leads a group of students playing flute-like instrument called qeejs in a traditional Hmong art on Monday.
Image by Zach Bielinski
Junior Chai Lee leads a group of students playing flute-like instrument called qeej’s in a traditional Hmong art on Monday.

Just steps from the Green Line light rail sits a vibrant new night market that intends to showcase St. Paul’s Asian business and cultural district.

This summer, the Asian Economic Development Association created a new event to celebrate and stimulate their neighborhood. Relying heavily on volunteer support, they conceived the Little Mekong Night Market — a community-oriented event that seeks to provide economic opportunities for local businesses.

Little Mekong, which is located between Mackubin and Galtier streets on University Avenue West, had over 2,000 attendees at each of the first three markets, a much greater turnout than the hundred or so attendees the association initially expected.

Organizers hoped to emulate the colorful atmosphere of night markets common in many Asian cities and fuse it with a touch of Minnesota.

Va-Megn Thoj, the association’s executive director, said eastern markets are interactive experiences that give the attendee a “good sense of the local culture, the local communities and the people who live and work there.” Vendors, artists and musicians meet in the streets and share their unique skills.

The previous markets featured primarily Minnesotan vendors, artists and musicians.

 A class of students between 10 and 17 years old learning the Qeej — a Hmong instrument made with bamboo pipes and copper reeds — has performed at two of the markets. Chai Lee, one of two Qeej instructors for the Hmong Cultural Center, said the instrument has a mythology: It was made to prevent the resurrection of the dead.

True to its origin story, the Qeej produces an eerie tone that contributed to the magical atmosphere of the earlier markets.

For this week’s market, the available food ranges from Vietnamese to Mexican cuisines. In addition to full meals, there are several frozen treat vendors, including the popular “Lily Bean’s Ice Desserts” stand.

The market has had a variety of interactive art booths including henna and face paint. Thoj said that the family-friendly activities intend to encourage attendee participation.

While the final night market for the summer is on Saturday, there will be an additional daytime market on Sept. 21. University Avenue West will close from Lexington Avenue to Marion Street during the day market. The Little Mekong district hopes to continue these events in the future with a few improvements. Vendors and attendees said they want a bigger market that runs more frequently.

“This first year is really a test run for us, so anything can happen next year,” Thoj said.


What: Little Mekong Night Market

When: 5 – 10 p.m. Saturday

Where: 394 University Ave. W, St Paul, MN 55103

Cost: Free

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