I could make you a bet right now and guarantee I would win. Did you know that on the island of Oahu in Hawaii there are 55+ farmer´s markets? Yes, just on Oahu, not including the other islands. Now it would be reasonable to assume that you would not know this. I didn´t know it until I did some research. Imagine my surprise discovering that Oahu locals, some having lived there for over 10 years…they had no idea either!
I had my heart set on visiting all of the farmer´s markets. Regretfully, a daunting task and the only task I did not accomplish during my visit to Hawaii. Most of the markets take place in the early morning hours and many were located more than a 2 hour bus ride away from me. So, in my defense, while I did not manage to visit them all, I did take advantage of the ones I could and made sure to do a lot of other culinary related activities during my travels. The following is my report on the farmer´s markets I was able to visit.
Armed with google map print outs, a list of markets from the local Hawaiian government page, an empty tote bag, some cash and my notebook…this hapa girl trying to pass as a kama´aina was ready to explore the local farmer market scene. During my explorations I was disappointed to find many of the markets had either shut down entirely or did not exist at all… Needless to say the ones fitting this category were of course markets I traveled at least an hour and a half to reach, but such is life and I have decided to christen these less than productive visits to nonexistent farmers markets as: Chef Chandler´s Impromptu Excursions via the Scenic Route.
The farmer´s markets were vibrant to say the least. I honestly believe they are one of the best ways to experience the palate of colors that characterize the island. Among the lovely array of ingredients and delicacies I was able to wrap my taste buds around I enjoyed abalone (KCC market), fresh figs (Fort Street market), lilikoi (or passion fruit for all you non-Hawaiians) cinnamon rolls (Bread of Life Bakery at King´s Village market), baby black tomatoes (Royal Hawaiian Center market), local artisan chocolate (Madre Chocolate at Ala Moana market) and many other countless delicious items.
One of the most famous and popular ones is the Kapiolani Community College Farmer´s Market. The place is huge and if you are going to go, do yourself a favor and get there right as it opens at 7:30am. The selection is bountiful and quite interesting with everything from freshly harvested ingredients and beautiful flowers to food stands and local trinkets. Ideal for a breakfast outing, I enjoyed visiting this market on more than one occasion.
The two newest markets on the scene are Ala Moana Center Farmer´s Market and Royal Hawaiian Center Farmer´s Market. Both are roof top markets filled with friendly vendors and assorted products. Just make sure to slather on some sun screen before you go if you are from out of town.
As for the markets I could not find, the list included: Hawaii Kai Farmer´s Market, Hawaii Kai Park and Ride Farmer´s Market, Hawaii Kai Towne Center Farmer´s Market, Koko Head Elementary Farmer´s Market, Restaurant Row Farmer´s Market and Ward Center Farmer´s Market. In their defense, perhaps these markets are seasonal or just lost outside the Bermuda triangle that is my sense of directions at times. If anyone can correct me so as to offer information about these markets, please do.
My favorite farmer´s market above all others was Fort Street Market, located at Fort Street Mall near Macy´s. Each stand has its own personality and everyone was so very friendly. My favorite spot was a vegetable stand close to a tofu sushi stand of sorts. A pretty Asian woman who I believe said her name was Toun, although I could be wrong, was one of the most helpful and well informed vendors I happened across in any of the markets I visited. She took time to tell me the names of anything I was unfamiliar with and how I could use them in my kitchen. She had a display of the most gorgeous fresh figs I have ever seen, the kind that would make your mouth water and your culinary brain hamster wheel turn with excitement, even if you are not a big fig fan. The selection at her stand alone was impressive to say the least and I daresay there was not an item there she did not know about. She kept a smile on her face and didn´t mind my note-taking or photo-snapping in the least. I have rarely had a moment like that one where I wished I had more than a $5 budget for exploring a food stand. Fort Street Market is fantastic, so be sure to stop by and pick up something to cook with.
Now you may or may not be wondering about this blog post title… Allow me to explain: I have always thought of Farmer´s Markets as a seductive form of culinary barter. Vendors flaunt colorful displays of their freshest selections hoping to attract customers. Customers saunter through the market grounds pausing every so often evoking subtle responses from vendors. These same vendors rearrange a pile of sun kissed fruits or offer succulent yet small morsels that dance along your taste buds just enough to make you close your eyes or smile ever so slightly at the sweet taste of nature´s best. Once you close your eyes, allow your lips to curve upward even slightly or permit your hands to caress the fruits before you, the game begins…
I invite you not only visit the Hawaii Farmer´s Markets, but to also share how they enticed you into buying new playthings (also known as ingredients) for your kitchen.
Until next time dear readers…