What Eden Prairie lost in hunting and fishing stores, it more than gained in delicious food experiences. RIP to the Gander Mountain, but I’d willingly trade more of them (and all of their fucking guns) for diasporic community malls like the new Asia Mall, currently in its soft open phase in the old GM space at 12160 Technology Dr.
The Monday after Thanksgiving seemed as good a time as any to check out the much buzzed about new mall, and the smell of charred meat danced in my nostrils as I walked between stone pillars beneath the glowing red “Asia Mall” sign. (Although I’d reserved Eventbrite tickets right at the noon opening hour, no one was checking them at the door.) Upon entering the two-story, 116,000-square-foot store, the first thing I noticed was the plaza-style layout. The brightly lit center of the mall was open and reserved for registers with a few produce displays of fresh, spiny, toddler-sized jackfruit, pyramids of vibrant orange satsumas, melons, nuts, squash, and more. Behind the displays: aisles upon aisles aisles of grocery goods.
Pillars of dried noodles, tasty pickles, walls of ramen, and three rows of snacks were backlit by a long corridor of freezers full of entrees, durian and taro fruit pops, dumplings, and all of the steamed buns one’s heart desires. Many of my favorite staples—Thai curry pastes, fish sauces, dried mushrooms, and the requisite 25-pound bags of rice—were abundant, as the layout led to another fresh produce area and a corridor full of frozen whole fish and fillets. Fresh bamboo, giant king oysters and tiny delicate enoki mushrooms, and thick pre-sliced pieces of purple-flecked taro root sat smartly adjacent to an entire display dedicated to hot pot seasoning and pre-sliced flash-frozen lamb and beef near the meat and seafood area.
Here, behind a separate door, a tub full of live and wriggling blue crabs greeted us, along with tanks full of tilapia, live lobster, and a sign advertising eel though the tank was empty on our visit. On display, too, were harder-to-find seafood like conch, razor clams, and jellyfish. The meat section had tendon, tripe, and other tasty bits of offal, like tongue and beef aorta, perfect for soups and stews.
Although our visit was shortly after opening, some of the displays were already picked over, no doubt due to the overwhelmingly positive response from visitors. The new mall’s ownership group proudly proclaims their goal of having all AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) identities represented under one large roof—and they’re well on their way. A few unopened vendors haunted the top floor, namely the Korean hot dog joint CrunCheese, shaved ice dessert stand Snowbing, a hair salon, and a place to buy used cars, with a handful of open spots for leasing to other restaurants and services.
Not only a place for grabbing ingredients for your meal or your favorite Asian snacks, Asia Mall is also a destination for stuffing yourself to the gills with delicious food. The sprawling space has allowed many local favorite Asian business owners to open new locations. On the first floor, flanking the grocery store, is Hometaste, brought to us by the owners of Minneapolis’s Hong Kong Noodle. The menu stars Chinese cuisine, and succulent, glistening ducks ready for your plate are on display. On the opposite side of the first floor, diners can find beloved Dinkytown pho staple Pho Mai’s second location, along with its sweet sibling, Bober Tea & Mochi Dough.
Crispy egg rolls, bouncy spring rolls, loaded banh mis, and beautiful bowls of bun salad accompany steaming bowls of fragrant pho at Pho Mai, and its corner of the mall can be a one-stop shop for a meal plus dessert if you grab a bubble tea and donuts on the way out. Don’t skip their fried boba and decadent creamy cheese foam as an addition to your Bober Tea drink! The donuts, too, are not to be missed, with distinct and delicious flavors like animal cracker, black sesame, and matcha. They have a perfectly crispy fried exterior, and thanks to rice flour, the large orbs of mochi dough offer a unique springy interior texture that begs to be torn apart and shared among friends… if you’re feeling generous.
Perhaps the most fun and interactive dining experience we had at Asia Mall was at Hot Pot City. A small robot, this one toodling out upbeat rock riffs to draw attention, led us to the entrance. After being seated, we were in awe of the vast amount of items we could order for our “all you can eat for two hours” hot pot adventure: shrimp balls, scallops, tofu skins, rice cakes, lamb, beef, pork. Greens and garnishes like chili and sesame oil, black vinegar, soy sauce, cabbage, bok choi, garlic, and more were serve-yourself on small plates on a buffet-style table on the back wall.
Another robot, this time a cat (catbot?) wore a tuxedo and had the unsettling voice of a small child; catbot dropped the meats and other fixings off at our table after our server brought our two heady and delicious broths—Szechuan spicy and pork bone which we customized to our liking with oils and spices—to our table. We then spent the next hour and a half or so happily dunking and slurping our way through the menu and only managed to try a sliver of the items on it. Although beer is on the drink menu, they’re still working on their liquor license; next time I’ll cool off my pepper-tingling tongue with a Sapporo.
On the second floor is another boba shop, Uni Uni, where I’m dying to return and try their coconut pudding in a beverage. And yet another Dinkytown favorite, Legendary Spice, brings its delicious and potentially mouth-numbing Szechuan cuisine to a second location at Asia Mall. If you’re a fan of Korean barbecue, bibimbap, or hot stone bowls full of jjigae, the Steven’s Point, Wisconsin-founded restaurant Dosirak has what you need.
Although the mall is still in its soft open phase, it has updated its Facebook page (which appears to be the best Asia Mall news source) with new 10 a.m to 8 p.m. holiday hours. Even if Eden Prairie is a little out of the way, Asia Mall is well worth the drive to experience some of the best Asian flavors the Twin Cities metro has to offer under one roof. And whether you’re grabbing a meal or shopping for groceries, you’re supporting many small-scale businesses in the process.