The Big Island of Hawai’i is an underrated foodie paradise that can easily compete with the likes of Brooklyn or Portland. From food carts to farmers markets to local and seasonal foods, the Big Island has it all; better yet, it’s tropical.
Before eating locally became trendy, the Big Island played a large role in beginning the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine movement. Initially, these foods weren’t necessarily local in that they were grown on the islands; rather, these foods were the popular cuisine eaten by the different populations from Polynesia, Europe, and Asia. Taking an eating tour of the Big Island not only allows you to taste these quintessentially Hawaiian treats, but it also tells you a little something about who came to settle the islands throughout its history.
My suggested food tour includes restaurants, bakeries, and farmers markets, as well as food and beverage tasting. The itinerary doesn’t necessarily have to be completed in any number of days (although it would impressive if you completed it in one swoop—you’d be very full, though). Stops are listed geographically from Kona counterclockwise to Kohala.
Learn how to make bread in the Portuguese Stone Oven, a reproduction of a typical oven from the Portuguese immigrants of the 1880s, at the Kona Historical Society (in Captain Cook) every Thursday and the second Tuesday of every month. The program is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the bread costs $7 per loaf.
The Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative (in Captain Cook) offers self-guided fruit orchard and coffee tours. More importantly, their gift shop area offers many free samples of coffee, dried fruits, and sweets that are all locally produced. Don’t leave here without trying one of their Li Hing Mui slushees.
This will only be your first of many stops to find the best malasadas (Portuguese donuts) on the Island. Actually, the Punalu’u Bake Shop (in Na’alehu) is probably better known for traditional, taro, and guava sweetbreads. Pick up a loaf (or three) as well as a malasada and bring them all with you to the nearby beach of the same name.
It’s a little like Napa at the Volcano Winery, the southernmost winery in the United States. Stop in for a quick (and free) tasting; they have several varieties of whites and reds but their meads (honey wines) are the better of the lot and are created with Big Island honey. If you want a more extensive tour of their vineyard and a private tasting (with some winery schwag), call ahead to reserve a spot ($25 per person). You can also add a tea tasting tour of a nearby plantation for an additional $20.
In Puna, both the S.P.A.C.E. Market (Saturday) and Maku’u Market (Sunday) will overwhelm your taste buds. At the S.P.A.C.E. market, try some raw gluten-free vegan pizza and tumeric tea (tumeric grows in Hawaii!). If that’s not your (literal) cup of tea, the Maku’u Market may be more your style with Mister D’s B-B-Q (he’s also at the Hilo Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays). Mister D serves up sticks of barbequed meat and fish for next to nothing (you won’t have to search for him; don’t worry, you’ll smell the voluptuous aroma). You’ll also find Samoan food. Try some baked ulu (breadfruit) and wash it down with a smoothie from one of the nearby stands. Anytime of the week, stop at Kalani Oceanside Retreat Village (in Pahoa) for their lunch buffet. It’s a vegetarian (and gluten-free) dream come true. The buffet, needless to say, has copious amounts of fresh local foods. I recommend not eating breakfast beforehand to really get the full experience.
I’ll be posting more foodie finds later this week. Stay tuned.
Photo credit © Bree Kessler