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The weekly KCC Farmers’ Market has become a major destination for thousands of foodies, locals and visitors. // © Deanna Ting 2010
Eating good food is one of my favorite things about traveling and my trips to Hawaii, in particular, never fail to serve up some of the tastiest and memorable meals. A case in point: a recent visit to the Saturday Farmers’ Market at Kapiolani Community College (KCC) in Honolulu.
Within the past year, locals and visitors alike have hungered for more sustainable foods and for good reason: Currently, the majority of food items used in Hawaii is imported. It’s a shame since, for hundreds of years beforehand, native Hawaiians were able to produce enough crops to sustain more than 800,000 people at a time. Today, however, residents — along with Hawaii’s most revered chefs such as Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong — are making a concerted effort to buy (and eat) locally and farmers’ markets throughout the islands are bustling.
Bustling doesn’t even begin to describe the scene at KCC. When I first visited the weekly market back in 2008, it was fairly busy, but mostly with locals. Now, however, it is as much of a foodie/tourist destination as Matsumoto Shave Ice or the Hau Tree Lanai. It’s even a designated bus stop for JTB Hawaii, a Hawaii-based tour company particularly popular with visiting Japanese tourists.
“Since the market’s founding in September 2003, we have grown to 60 vendors a week and we have a waiting list of about 100,” said Dean Okimoto, KCC market co-founder and president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, as well as the owner/president of Nalo Farms. “We give preference to farmers first that grow their own products, and look for farmers growing different or new things now. We also have weekly customers that number in total between 7,000 to 10,000 on any given Saturday.”
Okimoto’s personal market favorites include “things that make us unique,” like pesto pizza with fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, a cheese omelet made with fresh tatsoi (an Asian variety of spinach mustard) and Hamakua mushrooms, taro poke (totally vegan) and Waialua chocolate from Oahu-grown cacao.
Navigating your way through this beloved market can be overwhelming, simply because there are so many options from which to choose. Luckily, I was in good hands. With Honolulu native Candice Lee Kraughto, public relations director for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii, and longtime resident Rebecca Pang, a public relations spokesperson for the Oahu Visitors Bureau, my fellow journalists and I set out on an early morning eating excursion that — in retrospect — could potentially rival the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in calorie count.
Our first objective of the day? Strawberry mochi (pounded rice cakes) from Made in Hawaii Foods.
Throughout our Sheraton Waikiki press trip, Candice had implored us with tales of the deliciousness of these mochi — filled inside with fresh strawberries from Maui’s Kula Country Farm and encased by a blanket of soft rice and sweet red azuki beans or decadent chocolate. Needless to say, I practically salivated at the thought of trying one of these handmade treats.
Hurriedly, we scurried toward the stand, only to be met with disappointment: The mochi maker was (gasp!) on vacation.
Oh well. Such is the nature of fresh, homemade fare, I thought. That didn’t stop us, however, from purchasing some delicious taro chips from Hawaiian Chip Company, anyway. Made in Hawaii also sells excellent Island Preserve-brand fruit spreads. (I highly recommend the Lillikoi (passion fruit) Butter flavor.)
Delectable DishesUndaunted by the absence of strawberry mochi, our group soldiered on in our quest for culinary delights that I’ve listed below:
Tasting my very first barbecued abalone // © Candice Lee Kraughto 2010
Barbecued Abalone from Big Island Abalone: Abalone is a prized shellfish in a number of Asian cuisines but never before had I tasted a barbecue-grilled abalone until I visited the market. They’re a huge hit with seafood fans and I could definitely taste why. At $5 for two they’re quite a steal, too.
Cheeseburgers from North Shore Cattle Company: This family-owned and operated ranch specializes in raising 100 percent grass-fed and pasture-raised beef that gives its cheeseburgers a uniquely rich and fresh flavor. Even at 8 a.m. in the morning, it’s a popular breakfast choice among market goers.
Candice tries kimchee sausage while Rebecca offers her some fried green tomatoes. // © Deanna Ting 2010
Kahuku-Grown Sea Asparagus from Marine AgriFuture: Sea asparagus is the perfect description for this hydroponic crop of antioxidant-rich plants that resembles both seaweed and asparagus in its tiny branches. Purveyor Wenhao Sun advises customers to blanch it and serve it with fresh tomatoes and onions, or to use it as a topping for inari sushi. I bought a bag of tea to try at home.
Rebecca Pang covets a delicious kalua pork slider. // © Deanna Ting 2010
Kimchee Sausage on a Stick from Kukui Sausage: Meat on a stick? I’m sold. These singularly sumptuous sausages with a kick of spicy Korean kimchee (fermented cabbage) literally ooze with flavor and heat. The same stand also sells a Hawaii favorite, Portuguese sausage — also on a stick.
Salmon Fried Rice from Ohana Seafood: Not all fried rice dishes are created equal and this one, recommended by Rebecca, was definitely exceptional — the buttery flavors of the salmon blended seamlessly with the short-grain rice, accented with strands of nori (seaweed) and fresh green onions.
Memorable MementosThe farmer’s market also makes an ideal stop for one-of-a-kind souvenirs. A few of my favorites are also listed below:
Alii Kula Lavender: Once a month, you’ll find products from this Maui-based organic lavender at the market. Rebecca raved to us about its organic lavender honey scrub while a fellow writer dug into a scrumptious and fragrant lavender butter scone. Along with bath products, clients can also purchase lavender-infused food items such as jams, jellies and syrups, too.
Kaiulani Spices: One taste of Kaiulani Cowell’s delicious curry fried rice with cranberries will have you and your clients stocking up on her unique spice blends, made without preservatives or MSG.
Needless to say, there isn’t enough room to write about my favorite items and foods from the KCC Farmers Market — just as there was barely enough room left in my stomach after our merely hour-long culinary tour. It’s simply yet another reason for me to make a return visit — and for you and your clients to head out there, too. See you at the market!
Kapiolani Community College Farmers’ MarketHeld every Saturday from 7:30 to 11 a.m. at the Kapiolani Community College, located just north of Diamond Head in Honolulu.
Hawaii Farm Bureau Federationwww.hfbf.org