I went down a long highway with a friend to the Gnesen Convenience Store, 6049 Rice Lake Road in the Gnesen Township. It wasn’t much on the outside, and at first glance, the inside made me smile gently.
It’s the kind of store you see in a small town, with three times the square feet it needs but that is okay because the land is cheap, compared at least to shops in the city limits. There are five boxes of cereal, each box pushed right up to the edge of the shelf (inviting you to grab one), where in a city shop, they would be stacked five deep into the shelf.
It includes water noodles for summer fun and knick-knacks. It feels like the kind of place cabin-goers go to stock their larder and buy gifts for forgotten birthdays.
On the shelves there are little surprises. The noodles include rice noodles and rice paper egg wrappers. The canned fruits include Sugar Palm fruit. The sauces include chili sauces beyond that stuff all the hipsters put on their hipster food.
Inside the freezer case is a secret: Nanay’s Kitchen, serving Beth’s Egg Rolls. Egg rolls underestimates the awesome inside. There are multiple kinds of steamed buns, empanadas, egg rolls, and more. There are fresh cookies at the register.
I’ll be honest; I get tired of Annie’s Kitchen and other mass-frozen foods for my Asian cuisine in Duluth. (I spent too many years living in St. Paul, where Asian food in many varieties is available everywhere.) So the idea of freshly made egg rolls here in town is awesome.
I’m not much for empanadas, but steamed buns … yumm.
The owner (Beth? “Nanay” is mother in Tagalog, a Philippine language) is kind and enthusiastic, eager to tell you not just how yummy her food is, but what is coming up for her and her business — the events when you can come to locations like the Gnesen Convenience Store for hot food, instead of frozen, the events she is catering. She is also enthusiastic to imagine that her store can be a resource for the community, especially but not limited to the Asian community.
I found jarred coconut and other tasty fruits to use, Beth said, as ice cream toppings at first. The flavors would be unusual to me, Beth thought, if I ate them just from the can. (She doesn’t realize that I suck down pie filling from the can, but I will trust her insight.)
I’m used to thinking that I need to drive to the Cities to connect with Asian food and Asian community. Who would have thought I would have found it waaaay down the road at a nondescript gas station twenty miles away from civilization?
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