Lucky We Live Hawaii

There's a local saying: "Lucky we live Hawai'i!" It's an understanding of how special it is to be on the islands day in and day out...the breathtaking land, the climate, and what the combination of these two can produce. I'm talking about all of the amazing fresh fruits and vegetables! Kaua'i, in particular, is an ideal setting for farmers markets. And, if you didn't know, markets are one of favorite things in the whole world. This was my favorite part of my trip and why I saved discussing it for last! While you can find these gatherings all across Hawai'i, what makes the Garden Island stand out is the Kaua'i County Farm Bureau and its Kaua'i Grown program. My eyes were opened to an amazing world of family-owned farms and a mouth-watering parade of fresh produce.

Photo Courtesy of The Garden Island
My family and I were able to attend the Kaua'i County Farm Bureau Fair at Vidinha Stadium, and we had a great time! Similar to any standard fair on the mainland, there were carnival rides, games, entertainment provided by local artists, Pop Warner booths, and a petting zoo. It's not a typical tourist stop, so we mostly saw the neighborhood families coming out in droves. All the aunties, uncles, and little keikis hugging and being loud just reminded me of how Filipino parties start out too. ;P

After walking around a little, the Garden Island Orchid Society showing caught our eye. The large green orchid in the photo won 1st place! Wow!

Past the orchids, there were long tables covered in fruits and vegetables. It seemed to be a "Best Of" contest, with different growers submitting their prized produce. It was fun to see all the usual tropical fare, from bananas, passion fruit, and coconuts to mangoes, papayas, and star fruit.

Those big plants on the left are taro, and the standing green ones are bamboo shoots!

Some of the more interesting items included avocados, ginger, coffee beans, different gooseberries, noni fruit, and annatto seed pods. I'm from California, so I love avocados and I'm definitely used to seeing them. But these Hawaiian avocados? HUGE. More than twice the size of a typical avocado!

The noni fruit was also an odd-looking thing, but my mom recognized it as "apatot" (as its known in the Philippines) and said it can be used for medicinal purposes.

When I saw the red, fuzzy pods, I had no idea that's where the annatto seeds came from. Annatto (also known as "achiote") powder is used a lot in Filipino cooking, so I was interested to see it in the original form.

Logo copyright Kauai Grown

Before leaving, I noticed the booth for Kaua'i Grown, the county's program promoting locally-grown agricultural products and recognizing the retailers & restaurants that support the farmers of the island. (*It's partnered with the Kaua'i Made program that I've mentioned in previous posts.)

Their information came in handy when choosing what farmers markets to visit. Locally, the most well known ones are called "Sunshine Markets". The county sponsors seven of these. As seen in the "Kama'aina" (residents) section of, only "farm produce" and "value added products" can be sold. That is, vegetables, fruits, flowers, nuts, & honey produced on the island of Kauai and products created using at least 50% raw agricultural products grown on the vendor's premises or certified as "Kaua'i Grown".

During this trip, we went to the Sunshine Market at the Koloa Ball Park. Merriman's Executive Chef, Mark Arriola, is known to come to the market himself to buy the restaurant's supply of warabi (fiddlehead ferns). Executive Chef Ron Miller of Hukilau Lanai also makes routine trips for this curly green vegetable. Both get their supply from Glenna Ueunten of Ueunten Farms.

The stand for Kaua'i Roots Farm Co-op was also at the Koloa Ball Park. The co-op helps the local, smaller-sized, and family-owned farms by providing resources for the more business-oriented aspects of the job. This can include marketing, accounting, and sales. Basically, they're helping the "little guys" start out, develop, and reach more consumers. I think it's a great way to bolster the island's agriculture as a whole and to add to Kaua`i's sense of a close-knit community.

For me, one of the best parts of the market was getting to taste a young coconut. I've had them before, and every Filipino is familiar with "buko". But there's just something about walking around an open-air market on a sunny, breezy afternoon...and sipping from an ice cold coconut! When you're done with the refreshing water inside, you simply return to the farmer you bought it from, and they'll split it open for you so you can eat the tender coconut "meat". Best. Snack. Ever.

Finally, we saw a sign for Ahi and decided to check it out. It was freshly caught fish, thanks to Breakaway Fishing. $3 per pound. Three dollars. Back home, whole tuna can go for almost $20/pound. Since only three of us actually even liked Ahi, my dad bought a modest sized fish.

Later on in our trip, our group was also able to stop at the gourmet "culinary" market inside the Kukui'ula shopping center. It's also associated with the Kaua'i Grown program. This one is uniquely timed in the "pau hana", or "after work", style from 4 PM - 6 PM on Wednesdays.

While there are fruits and such available for purchase, like the star fruit and sugar cane that I bought, this market's focus is on local cuisine. Hence, the "culinary" moniker. Dominated by cooking demonstrations, a wine & beer garden, and vendors selling jams & artisanal cheeses, the Kukui'ula village offers its patrons a relaxing and appetizing way to end the day. We saw cups of tree-ripened mangoes, specialty coffee blends, and scrumptious pies.

The Right Slice--"Kaua'i Fresh Pies"--is owned by Sandy Poehnelt, who founded her pie-making business in 2009 and is also the head baker. Since she supports area growers, such as Pirate Farms and Aloha Aina Farms, The Right Slice is also toted as Kaua'i Made. Sandy also sells her whole pies in deep-dish, glass plates (instead of disposable tins) to cut down on waste. This trademark only adds to the hearty, homemade character of her tropical pies. Hand-rolled butter crusts are layered with fruits, like apple bananas (AAAH!) and the #1 selling combo of mango & liliko'i, as well as cream fillings like Koloa Rum Macadamia Nut, and even local favorites like haupia & purple sweet potato.

When I walked up to Sandy's table at Kukui'ula, I immediately went for the Chocolate Coconut Macaroon Pie. Mine was the last slice left, so I knew it had to be a crowd-favorite. Classified under The Right Slice's "rich & gooey" section, the decadent filling includes luscious chocolate ganache, creamy coconut custard, and toasted coconut flakes. The surface and crust of the pie is crisp and flaky, giving the rich pie just enough texture. I definitely could've gone for another piece if there were more, and I instantly wanted to try all of Sandy's other flavors!

But, as much as I loved meeting owners & workers and learning about the farms & businesses unique to Kaua'i, the quickest way to learn is just by EATING. Taste the difference for yourself. We had a kitchen in our timeshare villa, so of course we did some cooking throughout our trip. My mom prepared everything we purchased at the market (not a surprise, at all), but I was definitely in charge of one thing: the tuna.

Like I mentioned before, my dad bought a whole tuna. However, no one else knew how to filet a fish. They assumed that's where some of my culinary school experience would come in. ;) Albeit, I've never broken down ahi before...nor have I done it using a flimsy, Marriott-issued kitchen knife. (So go ahead and laugh!) I at least managed to get four clean "tenderloins", trimming off the dark-red and inedible "bloodline" that runs down the middle. (Oh, the tutorials one can find on Google and YouTube!) After searing each side of the salt-and-pepper seasoned loins, I deglazed the pan with Pass-O-Guava juice and soy sauce. I swirled in sesame oil and a little bit of wasabi to round out the sweet and salty flavors. Once it cooled, it was the perfect sauce to go with the seared ahi!

My mom usually cooked breakfast or lunch, using our market finds. One morning, we had katuray flowers as part of our meal. I've never seen these blossoms before, but Mom revealed that these too are used in Filipino cuisine. They had a slight bitterness to them, but were delicious when blanched and sauteed with garlic. She also worked the Hawaiian-favorite SPAM into her dishes, sauteing it with opo squash & squash leaves, or just frying it up and serving it with sugarloaf pineapples.

On the sweeter side of things, Mom fried saba bananas (very popular in the Philippines as well!), dipping these starchier bananas in sugar and caramelizing them.

Sampling the sweet, island fruits was also awesome. Avocados are nothing new to us Californians, but these Hawaiian avocados were very different. Hawai'i actually grows hundreds of varieties of avocado trees. Compared to the Haas, they have a sweeter profile and a much higher fat content. This gives them more flavor and a creamier flesh. I also tried Custard Apple for the first time ever! It has a soft, creamy flesh (hence, the "custard" part of the name). As far as flavor goes, it was like eating a sweet pear spiked with tropical fruit juices, a hint of pineapple and a hint of passion fruit.

Obviously, we had to buy mangoes, my favorite fruit ever, while we were here. We also bought a lot of strawberry papayas. They're sweet with floral undertones, and we had them with breakfast every morning. The star fruit, which was just coming in to season, was still a little tart. It was almost like eating a crisp, Granny Smith apple. My Uncle Alex "prepared" the sugar cane. He stripped the outer bark, then cut the inside into small chunks. As a first-timer, I was a little confused over how to exactly eat freshly cut sugar cane. I was told to basically pop it in my mouth, gnaw at it a little, and suck out all the juice. I'm not sure how to describe the taste, other than...sweet...and...sugary.

I have spent the past couple of weeks sharing my experiences in Kaua'i...encounters with wild chickens, finding heaven in the bottom of a waffle cone, falling for my mountain tubing guide...Wait...I mean, what.......OK, seriously now. This trip was an unforgettable one for me, but I hope all of you have gotten something out of this too. I hope you're inspired to come to the beautiful Garden Island and take part in all it has to offer for yourself. More importantly, I hope you've learned how special the people of Kaua'i are, from the hard working farmers and ranchers that make Kaua'i Grown possible, to the dedicated entrepreneurs that make up the Kaua'i Made network. I may not be lucky to live Hawai'i full-time, but I'm certainly still lucky every time I come here. I'll be back soon! :)