Slurp: Chef Yia Vang and his pop up Hmong noodle restaurant

A chef smiles for a portrait
Chef Yia Vang poses for a photo inside Slurp, his new pop-up restaurant in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

As 14 inches of snow fell Tuesday, Minneapolis’ newest noodle restaurant, Slurp Pop-up Noodle Shop, was busy with guests for their soft opening.  

Despite the cold and winter storm conditions, many trekked to get a taste of what Chef Yia Vang had cooked up for them.  

One guest, Ari Lamb, ordered the Khao Poon. 

“Very Yia” Lamb said as she took her first bites. “Saucy, brothy, delicious!” 

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The new noodle shop in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis operates out of Chef Yia Vang’s commissary kitchen. He uses the space to prep food for use at his other restaurant, Union Hmong Kitchen. It is also where he prepared the food that he served at last year’s State Fair.  

The idea for Slurp originated a few years ago when Chef Vang partnered with Twin Cities breweries to sell noodles during the winter months. This was before Union Hmong Kitchen found a permanent home.  

“We saw the space and we said, what's something that we can do and launch in less than six weeks, and we already had Slurp in the back of our pocket,” Vang said 

The menu, which boasts a simple set of six noodle dishes, is divided into two categories: brothy and saucy.  

Serving dishes influenced by Hmong cuisine gives Chef Vang an opportunity to celebrate his culture. It also gives him an opportunity to introduce people who aren’t Hmong to those flavors.  

“If they step up to the stall at Union Hmong kitchen, or they walk into these doors, they’re here,” Vang said. “Now, it's our responsibility to curate the rest. It's our responsibility to help teach and walk through the rest with them.” 

Vang and his team are pros at running pop-up restaurants, having started out as culinary nomads over seven years ago. However, the style has its own challenges when compared to a traditional restaurant.  

"You kind of have to start thinking about, you know, what we can do differently and what we can do quickly” said Chef de cuisine Mike Yuen. “How [can] we can get everything together in like a month as opposed to like three.” 

Slurp plans to wrap up its limited engagement in a few months. But that doesn’t mean Chef Vang will be leaving the Uptown Neighborhood anytime soon. Vang plans to use the space for more pop-ups.  

“Every three months or so, we're going to be switching to a different concept ... a different food idea,” Vang said.  

He envisions the space as a playground for chefs to create. Vang said he also wants to give young chefs, as well as chefs from marginalized backgrounds, a chance at running a pop-up.  

“That is exactly where we started. And that's who we are. And I don't try to forget that. I remember that, I embrace that,” Vang said. “I embrace that there are some people out there that hustle and hustle. And all they're asking for is ‘I just want a small space.’” 

As he finds himself launching a platform for young chefs, Vang reflects upon what his own parents did to give him the opportunity to be where he is now. He said that helping the next generation is baked into his culture. 

“One of the things I've learned about what it means to be Hmong is that one generation gives a part of themselves, that sometimes they sacrifice themselves to build a platform, so that a next generation can build on,” Vang said. “It's not that I went out and searched to do that. It just happened naturally.” 

Vang said he is also grateful for his culinary mentors, who first showed him the ropes. He now wants to extend the same helping hand.  

“It's not big, it's not fancy. But it's ours,” Vang said. “And we get to share a little bit with some of those young cooks, some of those cooks that come from BIPOC backgrounds … we can say, Yeah, we’ve got a spot for you.” 

Until the next restaurant idea pops up, Slurp Noodle Shop can be enjoyed until mid-Spring.