Monday, August 8, 2011

Yoga, culinary misadventure and coffee in the Twin Cities

It appears that I have been bit hard by the travel bug. A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Twin Cities (these are the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, for those of you outside the United States) for Matthew Sweeney's workshop. After I returned to Moorhead, I felt restless and honestly, a little bummed out that my yoga vacation was over. I tried to buckle down and prepare for my fall classes. I did some of that, but I still felt restless. So, what do I do? That's right, go on the road again! So this past weekend, we (my fiancee and I) went back to the Twin Cities. As with all my previous travels there, two things stand out prominently: Food and yoga. I had a few great practices at the Yoga House, and a little culinary (mis)adventure on Friday night. I also discovered a great coffee shop; a nice place to retreat to after mysore practice ;-)


I went to three classes at the Yoga House: Friday morning and Sunday morning mysore, and Saturday morning led primary. Which meant I skipped my rest day. I decided that it was worth it; since I don't usually get to practice with other people, I wanted to make the most of this opportunity.

During yesterday (Sunday) morning's mysore, I did second up to Karandavasana. After vacillating back and forth for a few weeks, I decided to split after all; if both Matthew Sweeney and Kino MacGregor think I should split, I guess I should, right? Anyway, during yesterday morning's mysore, as I exited Bhekasana, the teacher came up to me and asked me if I could do the posture again, so she could take a picture of me in the posture. I feel very honored to know that somebody out there actually thinks my Bhekasana is worth preserving on film :-) So I got into Bhekasana again, and here's the result:

  Hmm... So this is how I look from behind...


On Friday night, we had dinner at Thom Pham's Wondrous Azian Kitchen in downtown Minneapolis. To be very honest, I did not have a very high opinion of the place before we went there. The name strikes me as kind of tacky, and it even has a tacky facade to match it:

[Image taken from here]

Doesn't this remind you of something from Big Trouble in Little China? As I approached the entrance, I half-expected David Lo Pan to float out and shoot me with his eye-mouth laser-beams!

David Lo Pan
[Image taken from here]

Uh, okay... I guess I shouldn't assume that everybody is a martial-art-movie geek like me; all these references are probably totally lost on you; but seriously, if you ever feel like watching a totally silly kung-fu comedy, I highly recommend Big Trouble. You will be seriously entertained.

Back to the dinner. So it turns out that I was totally judging a book by its cover: Despite its tacky appearance, the food and service at Thom Pham's was very good. Our server was this African-American gentleman who was very polite and respectful, and went to great lengths to give us a nice introduction to the menu, which was very large and extensive, with many vegetarian options. We ordered mock duck steamed buns for the appetizer, which was delicious. I'm quite sure the mock duck was the most meat-tasting meat substitute I've ever had since I became vegetarian.

For the entree, my fiancee got some steamed vegetables with fried rice, and I got cranberry curry with mock duck... or so I thought. The mock duck cranberry curry arrived, and I sort of noticed that the "mock duck" had a much lighter color than any mock duck I've had before. I ate a few pieces, and noticed that it had a texture that was very meat-like... In fact, I've never had a meat substitute that so accurately replicates the consistent stringy texture of real meat; in fact, this thing positively tastes like chicken. Wow, I thought, these meat-substitute makers are getting better at their craft all the time! More people should become vegetarian. So thinking, I happily ate a couple more pieces of the "mock duck."

My fiancee, having been a vegetarian for much longer, was more vigilant. When she first saw the dish, she said, "This doesn't look right." And then she put a piece in her mouth, chewed briefly, and spat it out. "It's chicken!" she exclaimed. And she's right, of course: Who was I kidding? (Myself?)

By this time, I had already eaten at least three or four pieces of the chicken-that-I-happily-thought-was-mock-duck. I waved to the server. He came around, and was totally surprised. He explained that he had written "mock duck" on the order, but somebody in the kitchen had mistakenly made a chicken dish instead. He took the dish back, and came back a few minutes later with the mock duck version of it.

So I ended up eating meat for the first time in a while. Well, s%@t happens, you know. Can't be too harsh on yourself. Anyway, I'm now back to being vegetarian: Even though I honestly did enjoy the taste of those few pieces of chicken, I've decided that I'm still better off not eating meat. And happily, the few pieces of meat that I ingested had no noticeable effect on my practice: During led primary the next morning, I had no problem binding Mari D ;-)

Other than this little culinary misadventure, I really enjoyed the food and service at Thom Pham's. I highly recommend it.


During this trip, we also discovered a great coffeeshop: Kopplin's Coffee in St Paul. It's a really inconspicuous hole-in-the-wall place; nestled between a bowling alley and a florist, it's easy to miss if you are not looking for it.

We went there after yoga on all three mornings we were in the Cities. The baristas are coffee geeks: My fiancee asked one of them if he could make a latte with a couple of espresso shots. He looked as if she had suggested that coffee originated from Mars, and said, "Uh.... no. We're purists." End of conversation.

Well, the coffee purism definitely shows in the coffee. The espresso is really powerful. I can't say anything for the other drinks, because I usually only drink straight espresso, but I imagine they are probably wonderful too. Besides the coffee, one should also try the crostinis with a serving of cheese curds. Very good after-mysore nourishment :-)

The place also has a small-local-coffeeshop feel to it, with quirky regulars who are quick to recognize and befriend newcomers. We struck up a conversation with this middle-aged gentleman who seems to me to embody the quintessential coffeeshop regular: I mean the kind who buys a couple of drinks, hangs out there for hours, whom everybody there knows (because he hangs out there for hours everyday), and who seems to be on a perpetual coffee high, striking up conversations with whoever cares to listen (or not). Anyway, small independent coffeeshops are cool like that; actually, I'm sitting in a coffeeshop right now, writing this post :-)

Alright, I think this should be enough blogging to make up for all the blogging that I did not do over the weekend. I'm going to step outside and get some fresh air now :-)  


  1. Nobel! Big Trouble is one of my favorites. I remember that I went to see it grudgingly and fell in love with the pace & humor from the get go. For many years I replaced saying "sh#t hits the fan" with "there will be big trouble in little china" even though no one ever had any idea of what I was talking about. Must Netflix to share with husband & child.
    P.S. In my humble opinion the word "mock" should not really be used to describe anything in a food menu

  2. Hello sereneflavor,
    I'm so happy you are also a BTLC fan :-) Hmm... maybe I should try saying "There will be big trouble in little china" and see what kind of reaction I get.