30 Aug

Adventures in Eating: A Passport to Flavor (Hmong Traditions)

This month, we continue our “Passport to Flavor” series that explores different cultures and their food traditions. We hope you find this information useful in your work with children and families from various cultures, as well as a source of ideas on how to teach children about other cultures.

Our second guest blogger is Shirley Vang, a SNAP-Ed educator with University of Minnesota Extension who will be sharing her perspective on the Hmong culture.

Hello, my name is Shirley Vang. I have worked for Extension for two years. I was born and raised in the United States, but my parents are from Laos and Thailand. Growing up, I ate foods from their homeland as well as American food. I grew up eating the best of both worlds!

One of my favorite foods from the Hmong culture is Boiled Chicken with Tofu. It is made from chicken, tofu, lemon grass, salt, pepper, and chicken broth powder for flavoring. Lemon grass is a common herb used in Hmong cooking. It can be purchased at Asian grocery stores. 

Lemon Grass

Interesting Facts from the Hmong Culture

  • Rice and hot peppers are staple foods in the Hmong culture. Typically we have rice in one bowl and Thai chili peppers in another. We eat rice at every meal — breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 
  • Hmong women follow a chicken diet for the first 30 days after a baby is born. The diet consists of herbs in soups. The herb bundle used in the soup is called Tshuaj. The exact herbs vary depending upon family customs and what is available. Usually herbs used in Hmong diets are not available in conventional American grocery stores. They are mostly grown in backyards and on patios of most Hmong homes. You can also find them at Hmong farmers markets.  
a plucked chicken on a platter surrounded by green herbs
Ingredients for the chicken diet.
Photo credit: Cooking from the Heart

Ingredients for the chicken diet typically include one whole fresh chicken (purchased from a Hmong market or farm) boiled in water with lemon grass, salt and black pepper, and a variety of Hmong herbs such as Hmab ntsha nstuab (slippery vegetables), Koj liab (angelica, sometimes called duck feet-herb), Ntiv (sweet fern), and Tseej ntug (common day flower).

  • The Hmong people don’t have a country of their own. A lot of the elders in Minnesota are from Laos or Thailand, but they are not considered of Lao or Thai heritage. 
  • Not every Hmong person can read or write in Hmong and not every Hmong person can speak in Hmong. Adults that speak Hmong may be willing to teach you a few Hmong words that you can teach to children in your care or classroom. 
  • Hmong people in the United States celebrate the American Thanksgiving. How a Hmong family celebrates Christmas depends on their faith traditions. The Hmong New Year is not a specific day of the year. Typically it is held in November or December, depending on the community. St. Paul has a large Hmong New Year event each year at the RiverCentre. 

Helpful Ideas and Resources

  • Put pictures up of different types of Hmong foods in a classroom to create awareness of food differences and to create an inclusive environment. 
  • Show an interest in Hmong students’ cultural foods. Ask parents about traditional Hmong foods. 
  • Teach students about a variety of cultural foods. Consider doing a photo show and tell, and have children bring in a picture of a traditional food they eat at home. 

Eating and Playing with Children

It’s never too early to introduce children to new cultures. Sampling foods and playing games are fun ways to teach children about other cultures.

Eating: Lychee

Lychee is a traditional Hmong fruit. You can occasionally find fresh lychee at an Asian grocery store. To eat a fresh lychee, you must peel the tough outer peel. You can find canned, ready-to-eat lychee in most grocery stores. Lychee is a fun fruit for children to sample. Be sure and show them a picture of the whole fruit, too. The photo below shows the whole fruit and what the fruit looks inside the tough outer skin.


Playing: Pick-up Stones

Pick-up stones is a traditional Hmong game played by children as young as 4 years old. Here’s a video of Hmong children playing Pick-up Stones: Hmong Children’s Game.

How to Play

All you need to play Pick-up Stones is five stones and two players. There are 10 rounds to the game. In each round, a player picks up the five stones in a different combination. A player loses a turn if he or she drops a stone or makes a mistake. The first person to complete all 10 rounds wins.

Here are examples of the first three rounds.

First round: Throw stones on the ground. Toss one stone in the air. While it is in the air, pick up another stone. Continue until all four stones have been picked up.
Second round: Throw stones on the ground. Toss one stone in the air. While it is in the air, pick up two stones. Repeat.
Third round: Throw stones on the ground. Toss one stone in the air. Pick up three stones. Toss the stone up again and pick up the remaining stone.

For more steps, check out the Five Stones web page. Although this page outlines only eight steps compared with 10 steps played in the Hmong version, it gives you a good idea of how the game is played. The video on this site is also very helpful as it explains each step. This is a good game to play with children over the age of four as it teaches counting, eye hand coordination, and following directions.

Enjoy sharing the Hmong culture with children this month. For more ideas on the Hmong culture, visit the following websites:


Mary-SchroederMary Schroeder works for the University of Minnesota Extension which helps to connect community needs with University of Minnesota resources.  Specifically the Health and Nutrition programs and resources focus on disease & obesity prevention, healthy school environments, and continuing education for community professionals.  You can link to the Extension Health and Nutrition website at: http://www.extension.umn.edu/health/

Mary Schroeder, MPH, RD, LD
Extension Educator

Health and Nutrition
University of Minnesota Extension
Email: hedin007@umn.edu
Website: www.extension.umn.edu
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UMNExtFD Live Healthy, Live Well