my family history traces back to the hmong that migrated down from china who eventually settled in the mountainous terrains of laos. there, they farmed the hillsides for hundreds of years where they lived completely separate from the lao majority... think: the amish, relative to american society. except, the hmong are not laotian citizens and lived segregated from the lao majority for hundreds of years, growing their own food and surviving completely off the lands we occupied.
long story short, it was during the french indochina war and later the secret war that the hmong in laos started to get recruited by the cia to rescue downed american pilots and engage in guerilla warfare in disrupting the ho chi minh trail. yes, the war was "technically" in vietnam, but the ho chi minh trail (the lifeline the communist vietnamese troops were using to send supplies and reinforcements south) ran right through the northern region of laos where the hmong lived, making them ideal recruits to fight alongside the american against the pather lao and communist vietnamese. hmong villages quickly transitioned from its once quaint and sporadic villages sprinkled on the landscape of laos to congregating around american airbases... and by the 1970s, the only life they knew - of farming - quickly took a back seat; food and weapons were now being airdropped on a regular basis by the cia to support their war effort.
needless to say, when the americans pulled out of the war in 1975 and abandoned their fellow hmong constituents... a genocidal campaign using chemical warfare was declared against the hmong by the pathet lao government for their involvement during the war. many were killed, many fled deeper into the jungles of laos, and many died attempting to cross the roaring mekong river in hopes to enter their neutral neighbor, thailand.
my parents, along with my 3 oldest siblings, were among the fortunate who succesfully made that dangerous journey to thailand where they lived in refugee camps for some odd years before being repatriated to the united states. other countries that worked with the united nations and welcomed hmong refugees include france, argentina, canada, french guiana and australia.
now that i've provided a very high level overview of the hmong and how we've come to live amongst you :) let's get back to the initial subject: hmong food.
hmong cuisine today would be characterized as using herbs and spices such as lemongrass, cilantro, green onions, fresh chilies, garlic, mint and ginger - while fish sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and sriracha are among the most commonly used condiments. due to where we have been historically located, it's no surprise there are prevalent lao, thai, vietnamese and chinese influences in our modern cuisine, however, it's only been within the last four decades that we've had access to these ingredients. prior to the war effort, hmong food was no more than steamed white rice eaten with boiled greens and chicken/pork/beef... seasoned with only salt, if it were available. that alone is quite the accurate reflection of our organic roots, especially from a people whose lifestyle was literally reaping the fruits of their labor by surviving through true agrarian means for as long as they've known. it truly is mind-boggling how much our cultural food scene has developed in my lifetime from my parents'. after all, i can only imagine how different the concept of a "grocery store" would have been for them when they initially arrived to this foreign land, when all they've known up until that point in gathering food was raising their livestock, growing their vegtables/rice and hunting wild game.
that all said, i guess modern hmong cuisine could be anything i throw together using the aforementioned ingredients.
here's a good representation of hmong food, for inquiring minds, popular in any hmong household today. and oh yes... i could eat just one, or a combination, of these for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy. my kinda soul food i grew up with; much of it naturally organic, including free range poultry and livestock.
1. raw laaj 2.boiled pork and greens 3.khapoun 4.dilled mustard greens 5.papaya and stirfry 6.pho 7.sweet pork (qaij qabzib) 8.stuffed chicken wings and hmong sausage 9.bbq chicken (nqaij ci) 10.boiled greens (zaub hau) 11.boiled chicken and herbs (tshuaj) 12.eggrolls 13.pho kauv
as you can probably see, spice is another important element in hmong cuisine. a side of hmong pepper (chilies sauce) is also usually paired with every dish, oftentimes said to complete the meal :) on that note, it's also safe to say we don't regularly eat deserts but when we do it would be nab vam, as pictured below. nab vam is also known as a tri-color desert, which is a sweet coconut-based tapioca drink served cold! mmm. and there you have it... hmong food.