Did you know that Fresno hosts the largest Hmong New Year Celebration in the country? From December 26 to January 1, the Fresno Fairgrounds is transformed into a cultural delight. Happily, I checked it out for the first time this year.
I met up with my friends Jessica, Ger, and Mika to see the Hmong New Year sights. Jessica told me to bring cash and to arrive early. She suggested I feed my kids a churro for breakfast, which is sort of like long french toast, right? Anyway, due to her breakfast hack I made it to the fairgrounds at 9 a.m. before the big crowds hit. Admission was four dollar,s but kids under six were free. The churros were only a dollar, which made seconds really tempting. However, I was saving room for sausage and sticky rice.
I didn’t realize that the traditional attire is really common for all attendees. I thought only the performers wore the beautiful outfits, but one of my favorite things was seeing everyone in their traditional clothing. Ger explained to me that certain colors represented certain tribes, and how some aspects were more westernized than others. The hats alone were amazing. Coins are often sewn onto the clothes that represent good fortune and wealth, and a soft jingling sound surrounded the grounds.
Jessica does her gift shopping here, and it’s a brilliant idea. There are rows and rows of vendors selling everything from CDs and instruments to hats and bracelets.
I loved learning more about the culture. At some stalls, I didn’t know what I was looking at. Piles of … sticks? Baggies of dried mushrooms and mystery powders? Luckily, the vendors are very friendly and I learned that you can buy a giant bag of ginseng at Hmong New Year. There are also vendors who sell large chunks of fresh sugar cane. I loved the variety of fresh foods and spices, and I enjoyed the mysterious quality that comes with introducing oneself to a different culture.
Here’s the real truth: I spent all of my money on food. The food is amazing and, frankly, not something you can grab at the nearest corner restaurant. Ger suggested I get Hmong sausage and purple sticky rice, and I followed her directions gladly. It is delicious, especially with the chili sauce to dip it into.
Jessica takes her Hmong New Year foodie habits to another level. She brought a cooler and bought several plates of fried pork with sticky rice to take home and eat throughout the week. After purchasing all that pork, she recommended I try the papaya salad. I asked for “basic” spice level, and although I consider myself to be a spice lover, it was SPICY. I am going to chop up the cabbage it came with and cool it down a little. Who gets spicy level on papaya salad? Let me know, because you are a hero.
Ger says her favorite part of Hmong New Year is the food. Jessica said she loves the pork (obviously), but then she said, “I like seeing the culture. It’s like a huge reunion, and you’re invited to see be there.”
If you haven’t gone to Hmong New Year before, I highly recommend it. Since I had my four kids, I was happy to arrive early and beat the crowds. Sadly, I missed out on a lot of amazing outfits and most of the events. However, while I was eating, I did bump into Pachia Vang, Miss Hmong International 2016, so my visit wasn’t completely food centric. During Hmong New Year she will pass her title to another talented lady for Miss Hmong International New Year 2017!
Have you been to Hmong New Year before? What was your favorite part?
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