Sunday, February 1, 2009

Weekend Farmer's Market at KCC

On Saturday morning we headed to the Weekend Farmer's Market at Kapiolani Community College (KCC) in beautiful Diamond Head. We hadn't been to a farmer's market since we were last on the North Shore, which was a couple of months ago (granted, I was recently off-island for six weeks). KCC has my favorite farmer's market, full of really unique fruit and produce and a ton of great local fare for eating on the campus lawn or for takeaway. The crowds here always get to me a little, and parking can occasionally be a hassle, so it's worth arriving early. Then again, we got here at around 8 a.m., which was only half an hour after it opened, so maybe there's never really a time when the market isn't packed.

8 a.m. at the Weekend Farmer's Market

Another great thing about the Weekend Farmer's Market is that everything being sold beneath the tents has been grown or produced in Hawaii. And the vendors are actually the growers or producers themselves, which is helpful if you have questions, for example, about how to make the best use of their products.

Nice selection

There was a great deal of Asian produce at the Weekend Farmer's Market, which I was happy to see. At this stand alone (see above photo) they were selling shiso, Okinawan spinach, kale, arugula, komatsuna (a dark leafy vegetable that's often eaten pickled in Japan), baby pak choi, dill, chives, oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary, American and Italian parsley, and different types of mint, among other items.

Herb extravaganza

I was also impressed with this stand's selection of herbs. They were fairly cheap, too, but I'd just bought a bunch of them, which were cheaper, in Chinatown.

Purple sweet potatoes

I had an interesting experience on my last trip to Vietnam with purple sweet potatoes. I ordered pumpkin soup off a printed menu, but what I ended up being served was purple sweet potato soup. I was not a happy camper, but I ate it because I was so intrigued by how purple my food was. I didn't buy this at the market on Saturday, though I did think these would make some interesting bread or biscuits.

Papaya stand

One of the truly great things about living in Hawaii is the variety of tropical fruits that are available year round. I don't know how many times I've walked through some neighborhood when I suddenly spotted mangoes growing in someone's yard, or star fruit, or pomellos, or papaya, or any number of things that cost an arm and a leg at my local Foodland.

Bananas, pineapples, avocados, and corn

If I ever end up owning a house in Hawaii, I'm going to make sure that the yard has fruit trees. I had a fruit tree in my yard in Vietnam, but it was a cay guc (Momordica tree) and I was more scared of the fruit than eager to try it. A Vietnamese neighbor once made for me a dish of fried rice out of it, but I couldn't eat it. I thought she was trying to kill me. It didn't taste bad, but from what I remember it was full of seeds that nearly broke several of my teeth with each bite. Another neighbor grew trai man (water apples) but I was never able to reach over her fence and grab what fell on the ground. My other neighbor grew bananas and star fruit, but I was pretty sure that he and his "family" were Russian mafia, and I didn't want to do anything to make them think I was stealing. In any case, it would be nice to be able to grow my own bananas, avocados, mangoes, and even mangosteens. Maybe one day...

Of course there has to be shaved ice

I've never been a huge fan of shaved ice, though I do remember liking a childhood friend's Snoopy Snow Cone Machine and wishing desperately that I had one. Shaved ice is certainly popular in Hawaii, but it's said that if you want the very best you need to hit the North Shore.

Spam musubi stand, and a nod to the Japanese tourists

I doubled back when I spotted this Spam musubi sign. In Hawaii, denigrating Spam is like making a bad "yo mama" joke to someone who is by all accounts a little too close to their mother. I've learned to keep my mouth shut, both when people ask me how I feel about Spam and also when someone pushes it toward my face, offering me a mushy bite.

Spam musubi and various Japanese-style treats

I actually wish that I liked Spam...sort of. It appears in a lot of local dishes, and it's sold as musubi in convenience stores throughout the Islands. Ordering a fast-food bento? Chances are you're getting Spam with your order. Many breakfast places serve Spam with eggs and pancakes. And it's not uncommon for restaurants to offer Spam as an alternative meat source in their dishes. I respect Spam, just like I respect natto (fermented soybeans) in Japan or canh vit (duck's blood pudding) in Vietnam, but I'm not going to say I like it just because I live where it's commonly eaten. It's interesting to me, but not particularly appetizing. Maybe in a few years I'll have a change of heart. Like I said earlier, I hope that happens...sort of.

Andagi (Okinawan doughnuts)

I was tempted to grab a handful of andagi and see how many I could stuff in my mouth -- I'd pay later -- maybe -- but then what appeared to be a busload of kids ran in front of me and beat me to it. It was like watching a school of hungry piranhas strip clean some hapless, delicious animal that drifted into their path.

There would be no struggle. Ah, I couldn't bear to watch...

I turned my head from the Okinawan doughnut gore and, spotting a nearby stand advertising laulau and wood smoked salmon belly, started merrily toward it. I had to dodge a Chinese Lion Dance and its accompanying drummers, but I made it there safely.

Lots of Hawaiian food

I absolutely love the variety of the foods that are sold here, though I always feel bad that I can't try everything I see. I also like the fact that so much of the food here is Hawaiian, which is great for Oahu residents who want to support their local purveyors, and also because many of the people who come to the farmer's market are tourists. There's a surprise for them at every turn, and their support of the local food economy is important. Hopefully when they return to wherever they live they'll bring with them fond memories of Hawaii's unique food culture.

Sea asparagus

The most curious food we saw at the market was sea asparagus (otherwise known as samphire, I believe). Neither my wife nor I had ever heard of it before, and we sampled some from the container pictured above. It was very crunchy and incredibly salty, and I'm not sure why it's called "asparagus" unless the familiarity of the name is supposed to make it easier to sell. (It sounds more appetizing than samphire, doesn't it?) It didn't taste like asparagus; in fact, it didn't really taste like anything other than salt (though it had a slightly sweet aftertaste). We bought a small bag for $4 and stir-fried it at home with garlic. It didn't lose its crunchiness at all, nor its saltiness, though the next day, after being refrigerated, the salty flavor seemed to have diminished some. I liked it quite a bit, mostly for its crunch -- think of crispy chow mein noodles, only these are green and were plucked from the sea -- though I admit that its novelty might have factored into my quick acceptance of it.

The Weekend Farmer's Market at KCC is really worth supporting if you happen to be in Oahu, either as a tourist or as a resident. For more information, check out this URL:

The Weekend Farmer's Market is open from 7:30-11:00 a.m. at Kapiolani Community College, 4303 Diamond Head Road. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for the organizers and sponsors (The Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and The Culinary Institute of the Pacific), please call (808) 848-2074.

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  1. What an amazing array of fruits, vegetables and herbs, some of which I've never tasted or even heard of! I wonder if the purple is anything like ube from the Philippines? We're still about 4 months away from having any farmer's market openings - too cold to grow anything except icicles!

  2. Hmm, I haven't heard of ube before. I really need to get to the Philippines one of these days. And I'm sorry to hear about the icicle factory you live in. I hope spring arrives in Minnesota early this year!

  3. I love Farmer's Markets! I love looking at all the fresh items around.

    I have a great Farmers Market in my town that opens next month and I can't wait!