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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://www.hfbf.org/FarmersMarketKCC.html