KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Tropical Farmers' Market: Hilo Hawaii
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Thursday, December 21, 2006
Tropical Farmers' Market: Hilo Hawaii

Living in the Bay Area has made me appreciate farmers' markets.

I know that's not the most profound or even more original thought I've ever expressed, but you should know that before we moved here (a scant three years ago) I had never willingly visited a farmers' market. (I don't count the time I was bodily dragged to one with my Minneapolis Girl Scout Troop because those were my picky eater years, and I really wasn't interested in knowing what new vegetables I was sure to hate were being sold by the Hmong community. I was more interested in their textiles.)

Boston -- where I lived for six years -- probably had/has a few knocking about, but we didn't have a car and I never was inspired to figure out if any of them were T-able. When we did get our hands on a car, we usually booked on over to Bread & Circus (the Boston name for Whole Foods) and rolled ecstatically around in the produce section.

However, three short years in San Francisco ensured that one of my main aims in Hawaii was -- no, not getting a deep tan. No, not going on a surfing safari. No, not drinking my body weight in parasolled drinks -- it was going to a farmers' market. At first I didn't care which one, but while eating our first Big Island meal at Cafe Pesto on Hilo's historic boardwalk, we realized the farmers' market around the corner was just closing down for the day. Our server told us that of all the farmers' markets on the Big Island -- which is all about the farms -- Hilo was the one to visit. And, get this, Saturday wasn't the big draw. No, it was the Wednesday market that was a don't-if-your-island-life-depends-upon-it miss.

A week and several spectacular waterfalls later, and we were back. The Hilo Farmers' Market advertises their hours as "from dawn 'til it's gone." My first act was to walk up to a fruit seller and ask, "Do you know who has mangosteens here?" "Yeah," he said, "I do! And I'm the only one." What luck! What rapture! High on my list -- if not tops -- of things to eat in Hawaii were the elusive mangosteens. I looked around the table, hoping to spy one but realizing I wouldn't know one if it jumped up and bit me. The fruit seller -- an ex-San Franciscan, it turned out -- smiled and told me the season had just ended and mangosteens couldn't be found for love or money. As consolation, he handed me a lychee to suck on as I continued my rounds.

At one point, it started to rain. Far from people dashing under the shelter of the tents, no one really reacted. I quickly learned that the rain was as regular an occurrence in Hilo as protests in San Francisco. The rain was warm and light, barely discernible from the natural perfumed humidity of the tropical day.

These beets were bigger than my two fists put together.

I couldn't get over how long and elegant these scallions were.

Cool sauces.

Even better sign. (Hanging over the sauces.)

Crazy, beautiful Southeast Asian fruit.

I'm not a big fan of papaya except in savory Vietnamese salads, but strawberry papaya has an irresistible color. Deep and blushing.

How can you pass up Maui onions when you're in Hawaii?

I think a Madame Maxime might use this banana fan to flirt at the Giant Opera.

Thinking of the parking situation at the San Francisco Farmers' Market, this sign tickled me no end.

Familiar foods in such an exotic location.

I've never seen such smooth ginger with this incredibly delicate and pink skin. You feel as if you could chomp into a knob right there.

Longans, similiar to lychees but with a later growing season. We saw lychees hanging down from neighborhood trees on our walk to Lanikai Beach on Oahu.

Dragonfruit is the best name for this otherworldly, spiny fruit.

"Take a picture, buy a coconut," he told me. So I did.

Compared to our neat, tidy, and well-appointed market, Hilo's was rough around the edges, unpolished, and I delighted in the differences.

Hilo Farmers' Market
Corner of Mamo Street and Kamehameha Avenue
Hilo, Hawaii 96720

Wednesdays and Saturdays, all year round: From Dawn 'til it's Gone


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of those fresh products look amazing. But just FYI, I think the lychee you pictured are actually "long ans." Lychees are typically reddish in color when ripen and then have a more prickly shell protecting the delectable sweet white flesh inside. Your photo looks more like a tan, smooth shell, which is typical of "long ans" another Chinese fruit that translates to mean "dragon eyes." They're smaller than lychees and not as sweet but still very tasty fresh and refrigerated.

12/21/2006 10:06 AM

Blogger Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic said...

You're totally right, Chef Ben. I didn't even take a picture of lychees.

12/21/2006 10:36 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awww... No mangosteens? Poo.

The air in Hawaii is incredible. All those scents and the fruity smells make my mouth start watering from the moment I get off the plane.

- Chubbypanda

12/21/2006 11:55 AM

Blogger Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic said...

Sitting on the balcony at Mariposa in Oahu -- where we were up a good many stories -- I kept exclaiming that in Hawaii, flowers literally fall from the sky.

I couldn't find the tree source, but pink blossoms kept drifting down in front of us.

12/21/2006 1:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I been fortunate to visit Hilo/Pahoa district several times in the last several years...the Hilo market is truely not to be missed and be sure to visit the Island Bakery just down the street, the most scrumptious pineapple turnovers in the Hawaii..and while you're there be sure to visit the Pahoa flea market too...

12/27/2006 9:35 AM

Blogger Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic said...

Pineapple turnovers? Holy mother. Next time, I promise.

12/28/2006 10:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhhhhhh........Hilo. The Farmer's market there is truly a wonder to behold. Two trips to the Big Island have landed me there. Seeing your photos and words brought me right back. It also helps that I am eating an Okinawan sweet potato as I write this. Did you see any of those over there? Purple heaven.

What about checking out Champagne Pond area in Kapoho (90 degree water with multiple sea turtles) or the tidepools a few miles down. If these don't sound familiar, put them on your list.

12/29/2006 3:46 PM


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