We found some delicious cool and hot grinds at the popular Saturday KCC Farmers’ Market in Honolulu.
Annie and I are suckers for farmers’ markets. There’s just something magical about being in the open air, browsing (and grazing) the different stalls for whatever is in season at that moment. Whether it’s sand dabs in Saratoga, pimientos de padron (and pervs) in Palo Alto, California mangosteens in San Carlos, slurpaliciously fresh oysters in San Francisco, a delicious Japanese bento lunch in Austin, fiddlehead ferns at a Kuching night market, water apples at Kuching’s Satok Market, cat’s eyes in Serian, or live chickens in newspaper tubes at Sibu’s Central Market, you never know what you’re gonna find.
So even though we’d barely gotten off the plane from Taiwan, we knew there was no way we were missing the Saturday farmers’ market at KCC (Kapiolani Community College). It’s my neighborhood farmers’ market – situated on the backside of Diamond Head – and a foodie destination for locals and tourists alike.
What new foodie finds would we discover on this trip?
Over the years, the KCC Farmers’ Market has become more and more popular with locals as well as tourists. The parking lot is full by the time the market opens at 7:30 am. A shuttle bus ferries tourists from Waikiki to a stop just near the market entrance. Thousands of people pack the busy aisles and crowd the most popular food stalls. Still, the atmosphere is pretty laid back – must be all that fresh Hawaiian air
Every farmers’ market showcases the best of what’s in season, and the KCC Farmers’ Market is no different. What *is* different, though, is the variety of produce. How about locally grown apple bananas, or giant ripe perfumed mangoes bigger than your fist? There are golden cherry tomatoes picked that morning from their North Shore farm. And creamy Hawaiian avocadoes ready to eat – just give me a spoon and a dash of soy sauce, mmmm-Mmm!
If fruits don’t tickle your fancy, there are also fresh cut flowers for the flower lovers. I saw vendors specializing in anthuriums, ginger, hibiscus, bougainvillea, and even fancy orchids.
It seems like for every stall selling fresh produce, fruit or flowers, there were food vendors selling all manner of prepared foods. The Ba-Le Bakery stand is the place to buy breads and pastries (unfortunately, they were all out of the decadent almond croissant by the time we got there). There were locally grown honey, coffee, chocolate, and macadamia nut stands.
There were also hot foods being made for hungry market-goers like grilled North Shore sausages, fried green tomatoes, and grilled pesto pizzas. With all the saliva-inducing aromas wafting around the market, it was very difficult to keep our concentration as we shopped for our groceries!
One thing about the KCC Farmers’ Market is, it’s HOT. Kaimuki is typically dry, and the sun beats down from overhead like an oven set to broil. Esther was complaining about the heat and demanding a shave ice from one stand (I wanted to hold off until we could get to the best shave ice stand, Waiola Shave Ice). Fortunately, we came upon this new stall at the farmers’ market, OnoPops.
OnoPops are basically popsicles. But they’re not your normal sugary-syrupy popsicles from the grocery store. They are more related to the Mexican-style paletas, frozen pops made from fresh fruits. However, these guys use local, Hawaiian ingredients in awesome combinations for a truly unique taste.
Why go for plain strawberry when you can go for strawberry-goat cheese flavor (made from Kula strawberries and Maui goat cheese)? That’s what Daniel got, and he loved it. I went for the cucumber-yogurt-shiso flavor, which was very cucumber-y and not that yogurt-y. (I should have gone for the chocolate-dipped strawberry!) Annie picked up the popular ume-Thai basil flavor, which had a salty pucker to go along with the minty sweetness of the basil.
OnoPops Gourmet Popsicles
OnoPops has a truly dizzying array of flavors and they are constantly developing new ones. I wish I could bring them all home with me!
Grilled Kona Abalone
One of those aforementioned saliva-inducing hot food vendors kept drawing my attention as we made our rounds. You can’t miss them, because they are very close to the entrance of the market – the stand with the blue flag proclaiming “Kona Abalone” in English and Japanese, with the dozen-deep line of people waiting to place their order.
The abalone are raised on the Big Island of Hawaii and shipped live to Oahu as well as Japan and the US mainland. If you want, they’ll prepare the squirming gastropod sashimi-style. If that seems too extreme for you, then you can get them grilled (most people were in the line for the grilled mollusks). Here’s where coming to the market late is a plus – for $6 they’ll give you 3 grilled abalone compared to only 2 if you come earlier in the day.
Kona Abalone Stand
Truth be told, I only got to savor 1 of the 3. Annie ate the first. Then Esther chomped the second. I was left with the last one. And boy, it was good!
I think the closest flavor I could compare it to would be clams. But the flesh is so firm and meaty. Being a young abalone, it wasn’t like chewing leather. More like a medium-rare steak, but briny like an oyster.
I wish I had ordered some more.
Best part about it is we get to take home these pretty souvenirs. Those abalone shells clean up really nice!
Pearly Shell Souvenirs
Any magical farmers’ market finds in your area? Leave a comment and tell us about it!
KCC Farmers’ Market
Saturdays from 7:30 am to 11 am