Encore interview: Midtown Global Market celebrates its anniversary — with a cookbook

Global Market
From 1928 to 1994, the building that houses the Midtown Global Market was a retail and mail-order catalog facility for Sears. Today it offers a mix of Mexican eateries, Scandinavian snack shops and African gift stores.
Nikki Tundel | MPR News 2010

Looking for a good gift for the chef in your life? For Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis’ 15th anniversary in 2021, the chefs and business owners at the market came together to create a cookbook.

The 23 recipes highlight the many different flavors from around the world that are available at the market, including a bison and hominy bowl with blueberry wojapi from Sean Sherman and homemade tortillas from Manny Golzalez of Manny’s Tortas.

The book also features the recipe for Trung’s Egg Rolls from Pham’s Rice Bowl. Trung Pham, the owner of the Vietnamese restaurant, is one of the original vendors at the Midtown Global Market.

MPR News host Cathy Wurzer spoke with him during a busy lunch rush when the book was released.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Say, if you're looking for a good gift for the chef in your life, you're going to this next conversation. For Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis's 15th anniversary back in 2021, the chefs and business owners at the market came together to create a cookbook. The 23 recipes highlight the many different flavors from all around the world that are available at the market, including a bison and hominy bowl from Sean Sherman and homemade tortillas from Manny Gonzalez of Manny's Tortas. The book also features the recipe for Trung's egg rolls from Pham's Rice Bowl.

Trung Pham, the owner of the Vietnamese restaurant, is one of the original vendors at the Midtown Global Market. I talked with him during a very busy lunch hour rush when the book was released.

TRUNG PHAM: That's sort of reminisce of when I was living out in Seattle, where the Pike Place Market. So it's basically it's an indoor public market. It's a bustling, hustling indoor public market. And, of course, on a day like this, an indoor public market, it's the right place for people to come and visit. As you walk through the main entrance, there are about 12 restaurants kicking up there cooking, and you're just overwhelmed with the smell of food. And you instantly will get hungry right away.

CATHY WURZER: Make me hungry, by the way. What do you what do you have cooking here today?

TRUNG PHAM: For us, on a day like this, our pho is, no pun intended, phenomenal. You know, it's a bowl of steaming hot traditional Vietnamese soup that really hits the spot on a cold day like this.

CATHY WURZER: Why did you take a chance to set up your business at the Midtown? That was 15 years ago. That was a pretty new venture, but you decided you were going to take a chance. Why?

TRUNG PHAM: I was in corporate at the time, and we just moved back from the Chicagoland area. And I didn't know much about the Minneapolis and the neighborhoods, et cetera. And either through my ignorance of the neighborhood setup or just the desire to set up a business for myself, we took a chance in opening up a business inside the Midtown Global Market. And it's not that I'm a smart person in getting this to be lasted for 15 years. I think there were a lot of luck and hard work that went into this to keep us going for the last 15 years.

CATHY WURZER: What are some of the biggest changes you've seen over those 15 years?

TRUNG PHAM: Well, certainly, the last 15 years, we have seen a few cycles. For example, back in '08, with the downturn in that market, but a lot of us were able to survive that. And with this, certainly the latest downturn-- to say, it's a downturn, it's an understatement. A lot of us continue to struggle through this particular process. But the ones that still surviving, a lot of us, we have a lot of resiliency and grit it out and hard work and still making it work by coming in and turning on the lights every day. I think it's just the love of doing the business that drive us to continue to keep it open.

CATHY WURZER: I'm assuming that all the unrest over the George Floyd murder was very difficult to deal because you were right there at the center of some of the unrest and the rioting and what happened.

TRUNG PHAM: Absolutely. Aside from the COVID issues, we have to deal with the unrest situation and the rioting and the looting, et cetera. But really, the love of the marketplace with the residents who live upstairs in the apartments, in the condos, and also the business owner, we've been here for 15 years, and we love this place. And we're not going to let it happen to our building, to let it burn down.

And so just to give you a pretty visual picture. The second night where words have been that people are going to go out and try to loot and burn some more down, the residents and the business owner within the Midtown Global Market, they actually physically went outside the building and basically create a chain of arms surrounding the building and pretty much gave the message to those individuals that we have our livelihood here, we live here, please do not burn this place down. And they respected that, and they didn't tread on that.

CATHY WURZER: And you're still standing and still here Hey, let's talk a little bit about the restaurant here. Have you had famous guests that you can tell us about? A favorite story from the market?

TRUNG PHAM: Well, certainly. One of our local foodies is Andrew Zimmern. He actually used the Midtown Global Market as a lot of his backdrop for a lot of his shows and shootings. And I can give you one of the examples that he did was I think one of his show called Dining with Death. And of course, you envision eating dangerous puffer fish, snakes, et cetera. And he came in and he asked if he can use our restaurant as a backdrop for his show. I said, certainly, but you know What since it's Dining with Death, just take our name out of it, so. And he's respected that.

And so Andrew Zimmern is one of them. And then we have a lot of the national food shows that have come to the market and have filmed here, like Guy-- I may mispronounce his name, but Guy Fieri. Yeah, he came here, and he filmed a couple of times. And we have local and regional filmmakers that have come in and filmed the marketplace here.

CATHY WURZER: You've got the best egg rolls. But I would think that making egg rolls at home would be super hard. Am I wrong?

TRUNG PHAM: It does take a process, yes. But once you know the ingredients and once you mix it in, it's pretty easy. And certainly, you know, I've learned this particular recipe through my mom. She's a phenomenal woman. I'd watch and do it with her when I was younger. And now she has retired from work. Now she's volunteered through her work.

And like I said, she's a wonderful phenomenal woman that's continuing to give back to her church. She lives now in La Crosse, Wisconsin. And last year, she called me up. She said, yeah, my local church is looking for egg rolls donation. I need to make 150. And so in my mind, oh, 150, no problem. She said, no, 150 dozen. And so she cranked out 150 dozen with a little help from her little volunteers of armies, trying to get it out for her church.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. Do you have a secret ingredient in the egg rolls that you can share?

TRUNG PHAM: Well, in the beginning, when we first opened at the Midtown Global Market, traditionally the Vietnamese egg rolls we would use pork in our egg rolls. But after a couple of months, what we were finding is that in the South Minneapolis area there's a lot of a large Muslim population. And obviously, they don't eat pork. So what we did was we switched over to chicken. And that was 15 years ago. And the ingredients have stuck ever since, and it has become very popular.

You know I like to post maybe our-- boast that our egg rolls are like the best in the universe. But I think that's pushing it a little bit too far. But so I'll stick with how about the best in Minnesota?

CATHY WURZER: OK. We'll go with that. I think you win top award. It was so much fun talking to you, Trung. Thank you so much. I wish you all the best.

TRUNG PHAM: Great. Thank you so much, and I appreciate you having us on.

CATHY WURZER: That was my conversation with Trung Pham from December of 2021. The Midtown Global Market Cookbook is still available for purchase on the Market's website.

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