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Letter from Hawaii: Market Economy

Frankie, of Frankie's Nursery, showing the proper way to open a jackfruit. Photo by Karen Glenn.

by Tom Passavant

There are innumerable ways to make your friends jealous when you are in Hawaii and they are not. Especially in winter. They range from the world –famous (the warm sea and flower-scented air, the surfing competitions up on the fabled north shore) to some lesser-known but still memorable only-in-Hawaii attractions.

One of my favorites takes place every Saturday morning of the year, and it’s within walking distance of Waikiki, assuming you don’t buy too many papayas to carry back to your hotel room. The weekly farmer’s market at Kapiolani Community College is enough to make mainlander food lovers start looking at real estate ads. Things get under way promptly at 7:30 a.m. (and end equally promptly at 11), when hordes of locals, with their public radio tote bags, swarm into the tree-shaded parking lot for first dibs on potted orchids and bouquets of extravagant tropical flowers—torch ginger, olena, heliconia,  etc. Apple bananas, far sweeter than the supermarket bananas back home, and sunrise and strawberry papayas go quickly, too. Rambutans, guavas, breadfruit, and endless varieties of local avocadoes have been spotted in the past few weeks.

Rambutans. Photo by Karen Glenn.

By 8:30, Japanese tour groups have arrived in force, lining up in their Ugg boots for fried green tomatoes, samples of fresh island abalone, drinks made from PacifiKool ginger syrup, and prepared food ranging from Indian curries and grilled misoyaki butterfish to local sweet corn.

Naked Cow Dairy. Photo by Karen Glenn.

My wife and I tend to burrow our own path through the mellow crowds, starting with a cup of Koko Crater Coffee Roaster’s excellent coffee, then moving on to our favorite sellers of bananas and flowers (Ska Tropicals), bread (Vietnamese-owned Ba-Le Bakery), butter and cream cheese (Naked Cow Dairy) and leafy greens (Nalo Farms). Every week there are surprises, as some vendors show up on an irregular schedule. The other day someone was offering samples of fresh hearts of palm.

Finally, overcome by the smells of shrimp omelettes and grilled sausages, we decide it’s time for breakfast. Karen dotes on the grilled pizza topped with fresh pesto and homemade mozzarella from North Shore Farms. My indulgence is a spectacularly smoky pulled pork slider—made from local pork, natch–with vinegar slaw on a homemade taro bun, from the students of KCC’s culinary program. For $3, it’s the best breakfast deal in town, and there’ll be sweet, ripe papaya for dessert when we get back to the condo.

For more information: hfbf.org.

Tom Passavant is a former editor-in-chief of Diversion magazine. Now a freelance travel and food writer based in Colorado and Hawaii, his work has appeared in Aspen Magazine, Gourmet, Four Seasons Magazine, Town & Country Travel, ForbesTraveler.com, Ski, Powder, Luxury Living, and many other places. He is the co-author of “Playboy’s Guide to Ultimate Skiing.” A former president of the New York Travel Writers Association, Passavant has won a Lowell Thomas Award for his travel writing and has served as judge for the James Beard Journalism Awards. See more of Tom’s work at TomPassavant.com.

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  1. Mike Harrelson
    December 1, 2010 at 11:56 am — Reply

    Aloha Tom, You’re makin’ me hungry, brah. Can’t wait to drop into a Big Island iteration of your farmer’s market description. As they say in the islands, “broke da mouf!” (i.e, broke the mouth = delicious!). A Hui Hou, Mike H.

  2. Allison Miller
    December 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm — Reply

    Great post, Tom. My mouth is watering for that pulled pork sandwich!

    When do you travel back to Aspen?

  3. Gail
    December 5, 2010 at 5:33 pm — Reply

    The tastes and smells reach us all the way in Chicago. Thanks for these images of your Saturday mornings. See you in the Spring.

  4. December 8, 2010 at 7:21 am — Reply

    Thanks for that! My aunt recently harvested her garden full of tomatoes , and I found myself the owner of two or four buckets worth! Of course I couldnt eat them all like that, but I did find a website full of even more tomato recipes at that site. A whole website dedicated the topic!! Crazy what you can find on the internet these days!!

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